An Easy Solution to Your Spam Problem… Kill All the Users?

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” – Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene II.

One of the few memorable lines from Shakespeare’s three part cycle recounting the history of Henry VI; Dick the butcher uttered those words as an expression of the role of lawyers in society. Lawyers, the words seem to imply, represented the insanity and ultimate ruination of the common people, and they had no part in the formation of the new order that was to be brought about by Jack Cade’s social revolution. While some have tried to twist those words over the years, it’s generally accepted that the bard intended the words as a condemnation and not as a complement, as some, ahem, lawyers would have you believe.

But what if the sentiment was dusted off and given a modern spin? What if instead of lawyers, we were to consider the scourge of modern society – the end user? One of the first things you teach fledgling IT consultants is an informal rule that’s meant to help technicians diagnose computer error by understanding the most common source of computer error. I call it the Rule of Blame. The Rule of Blame suggests that when considering an IT problem, 5% of the time it’s hardware based, 10% of the time it’s software based, and 85% of the time it’s user based.

Would you like some cream and sugar with that disc?

In case you doubt that breakdown, which is loosely based on a study in the early 1990’s of technical support calls, consider this story that had me falling out of my chair. I believe it was in PC Magazine in the early ‘90s, and it was a year-end top ten of the dumbest technical support calls. I can’t remember most of them now, but I do remember number one. A man called tech support to complain that he broke the coffee holder on his PC. Confused, the technical representative spent several minutes with the customer, trying to understand exactly what he was talking about, since the company in question (I believe it was Gateway) didn’t sell any computers with built-in coffee holders. Finally, the rep managed to glean the truth from the customer, who had ejected his CD-ROM tray and, assuming that it was a coffee holder, set his mug on it.

Funny stuff, huh? Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met became the dumbest people when they sat down in front of a computer. If you’re anything like me, you can no doubt relate. Every PC technician has a story like that, and most have far too many to remember them all. But a story from IT Pro this week has me wondering just how bad things have gotten as it relates to user error. In his story called The Truth About Spam, Davey Winder speaks about the GFI Software study published in early March, something we reported on here at AllSpammedUp.

Who’s on first?

Other studies seem to provide contradicting information, for example the IBM X-Force report that stated spam is showing a significant decline. In fact, the overall outlook changes repeatedly, depending on whose study you read. It can be difficult to know who to believe, but it’s very tempting to follow the lead of the GFI Opinion Matters study, since the research conducted went right to the source – the people in the trenches who are forced to deal with spam every day, 365 days a year. Perhaps it’s shocking that 14 percent of the respondents don’t have an education program in place to increase employee awareness, and Winder points out that:

“until this situation changes, until those responsible for the security of the network take off the rose-tinted spectacles and admit both server/cloud and client-side approaches are needed to trap the most spam possible, the spam problem will not be going anywhere.”

Does the problem lie at the feet of the 85% – the user? Of course not. There are two things at play here. First, spam levels haven’t changed, or at least the threat hasn’t. Regardless of its conclusions, IBM X-Force still recognizes that the threat is very palpable. Second, you can educate users or you can take their computers away, but you cannot change them. The 85% in the Rule of Blame is meant to point out that users are inherently dumb, and that will never change.  It’s the technicians – and those who make enterprise-level decisions – who need to make those all-important steps toward change.

All things considered, however, Shakespeare may have been onto something about those pesky lawyers…

Written by Malcolm James


  1. Neil Wright · April 4, 2012

    The thing about spam is certainly that even the most educated users sometimes fall for it as well, it just has to appeal to something they feel that they want or need. You could be a decades-experienced hardware developer, but if you click on that email promising the funniest cat videos, you’re just as guilty as those who fall for 419 scams. As for hilarious IT stories, well…I could fill up this comments section myself with some of those.

  2. Ashley Miguel · April 16, 2012

    I certainly agree to this. As users, we have to be responsible enough when using our computers specially in dealing with the complicated online world.

    Sites like these can serve as a common ground to people who wants useful information about computers. We all make mistakes, there is no exception to that. But the end-users just need proper guidance and correct information in dealing with spam and viruses. No one wishes to encounter a dilemma when using a computer. If you get rid of the users, then who will appreciate all the functions of the computer. And by the way, I like the error window box appearing in this article.

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