Computer related mutation and evolution in action: viruses, spam, spyware, forced logins.

I have put these articles into this blog because I am seeing a whole host of news and interesting articles now that I refer to as evolution articles that cover ongoing mutation-based miniature arms-races where both sides are actively developing their skills and each side often holds the upper hand for only a short time before the other side catches up or surpasses it. It is evolution in action and can be found in many different places:

– virus writers vs. anti-virus software (Security Focus article)
– spam vs. spam filters (Industry Standard article)
– spyware vs. evasion-ware (Fast Company article) (Spyware article)
– forced logins vs. log in sites (Wired article)
– cell-phone theft & anti-theft (Guardian article)

One of these articles (Security Focus) quotes the age old Newton’s Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I have been fascinated to watch, for example, the ongoing mutations of the spam that are evading my Bayesian spam filter from SpamSieve. The software works great…except that the spammers keep mutating their spam. First, they added spam-poetry, those long blocks of words designed to bypass the filter. A lot of those got through for a while. Now they have realized that simply putting the date and time (including the seconds) into the header would mutate the mail enough to get it through. Now, for some reason, I am getting a lot of spam with subject lines that look like: “$17453″and a lot of those come through. I keep training it of course and then it gets better again (for a while.) But it’s a never ending battle and the filter corpus (dictionary) keeps growing exponentially.

In this case, the structure below (non-authenticated, cost-free message transport) is the root of the problem and if they fix that, then the whole problem goes away but it’s a major re-work for the internet as we know it.

That happened to cell phones in the early days. The handsets were very expensive and there was no way to block them if they were stolen, so theft was common. Then the price dropped asymptotically to zero, as cell phone companies subsidized the hardware prices, and they added in serial number blocking. BUT….then with this recent burst of mobile phone popularity across the world with young kids, cell phone theft is once again on the rise. There is the pattern again.

If you are reading this and can think of some other interesting technology arms races, please add them to the comments section.