Terry Zink: Security Talk

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Nanobots and fighting spam

Nanobots and fighting spam

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One of my favorite fiction writers is Michael Crichton.  His books often center around technology and how when humans try to control or influence the physical environment, things go awry.  In Jurassic Park, humans recreated dinosaurs and attempted to profit from it.  In Sphere, they discover a 3-dimensional circle at the bottom of the ocean and try to weaponize it, only for nearly everyone to die.  The central theme of these books is that the natural environment is still a longs ways away from being controlled by science.

The book I just picked up this weekend is Prey.  I'm only about 1/4 of the way through it, so please, no spoilers in the comments section.  There are two things so far that have jumped out at me.

First, some humour.  At one point, the protagonist Jack describes his career.  He is a manager of engineers and programmers.  He says at one point that he used to program, but that programming is a young person's job and he doesn't do that anymore.  I laughed out loud when I read that.  I don't program anymore either.  I manage projects and do research.  Am I really getting that old?

Secondly, Crichton often winds real facts into his stories.  In this story, it talks about molecular manufacturing, or what most normal people would call nanotechnology.  The main character has done some nanotechnology work where little microbots learn and evolve.  One of the techniques that they learn to understand is natural language processing; Crichton doesn't go into further details, but I take this to mean that nanobots create an artificial life form that understands real language that people use.

What immediately jumped into my head was using such a technology to fight spam.  While molecular technology and spam fighting is probably near the bottom of the list of possible uses, it really could be kind of cool.  Rather than a spam analyst having to think of patterns of phrases and text in languages that indicate spamminess, a neural network could learn to understand what patterns of text occur in messages which mean that it is spam.

The spam that we come across is still primarily based in the English language.  Spam analysts need to be fluent in English.  This is the case because English language spam uses a lot of slang (so does the regular English language).  In sexually explicit spam, words that can be used in normal language, when combined together, only occur when spammers are hawking a product.  Other types of spam like mortgage refinancing or Viagra are equally good examples. 

What if a neural network containing molecular particles worked as a spam filter?  This filter would not need to be continuously populated with new streams of good mail and bad mail.  Instead, it would learn to recognize spam based upon previous patterns and then make predictions on new types of spam that it hadn't seen in the past.  One of the weaknesses of current filters is that is spammers change spam content from new bots, spam filter effectiveness drops.  With a neural antispam network, it wouldn't matter.  The spam filter would "know" that the new type of message is spam because it has learned to recognize what spam is (and more importantly, what it is not).  As humans, we can do this pretty easily.  Current spam filters struggle.  The spam filter of the future will not.

I'm just typing down some random thoughts but I think it's kind of a neat idea to think about.

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  • "He says at one point that he used to program, but that programming is a young person's job and he doesn't do that anymore. "

    I love programming and will continue to do it until senility or I die.  That said I don't do just code.  I deal with users and build the database and apps right from scratch to meet their requirements.   And their requirements are never written down.  They just have a vague idea.

    I also work in Access which is a great tool for rapidly building database apps for clients or departments with up to 50 users.  Or unlimited users with the data being stored in SQL Server.

    In the next few days I'm going to write a app which the foremen of a bulldozing company will use to enter their daily invoices while in their pickup trucks at the job site.  The app will then email the invoices using cell cards in the laptop to the client and the office.  At the end of the day the backend database will be zipped and emailed to the office.  In case his laptop gets stolen or dies to the abuse of being on very rough gravel roads.

    I just love what I do.   Oh, right the point of my posting.  I'm approaching 50.  I've been doing this since I was 19.

    Many of the Access MVPs are also building apps with many of them with substantial amounts of grey hair. Larry Linson is about 70.  He loves using Access as well.

    Tony Toews, Microsoft Access MVP

  • "I don't program anymore either.  I manage projects and do research.  Am I really getting that old?"

    Programmers continue programming.  Managers manage.  Managers can't conceive of anyone who doesn't want to be a manager, so managers think that programmers who continue programming are idiots.  Between managers and programmers, guess who has the power to screw whom?

    "The spam that we come across is still primarily based in the English language."

    Not any more.  Some pseudo spamfighters block messages by their character set encoding instead of contents, and it used to be that such a technique could block 98% of spam by blocking all messages coded in Latin-1 and similar character sets.  But not any more.  It's running around 50-50 now.  Though I wonder why there's very little other than Japanese and English.

  • I guess the whole point of article is to suggest replacing spam-filters with nanobots. Lets stick to it :).

    Three cheers to Terry. I really liked the idea of an ANN trained to fight Spam (whose defination keeps changing).

    A good topic to do research :).

  • appealing article so I felt oblige to write a (semi-commercial) reply: there is anti-spam technologies around which sort of function as a nano-bot. They make use of a network effect and basically benefit from having a huge number of connected users in their customer/network portfolio. As such, as soon as a message occurs too often or is sent from the same source (which IS traceable), spams are starting to get blocked.

    how to analyse the content you might wonder? well, besides the obvious scanning techniques, you need conversion tools which can rematch parts of sentences of phrases even though they might be embedded into a legitimate text. That's the real challenge and can only be accomplished through a kind of anti-spam community. Difficulty here: establish a standard everyone participates...

  • appealing article so I felt oblige to write a (semi-commercial) reply: there is anti-spam technologies around which sort of function as a nano-bot. They make use of a network effect and basically benefit from having a huge number of connected users in their customer/network portfolio. As such, as soon as a message occurs too often or is sent from the same source (which IS traceable), spams are starting to get blocked.

    how to analyse the content you might wonder? well, besides the obvious scanning techniques, you need conversion tools which can rematch parts of sentences of phrases even though they might be embedded into a legitimate text. That's the real challenge and can only be accomplished through a kind of anti-spam community. Difficulty here: establish a standard everyone participates...

  • I finished reading Michael Crichton's book Prey the other day.  I blogged about this a week and

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