I think I may have come up with a possible solution for spam. But first, some background.
I have read somewhere (can't find the reference, unfortunately) that when intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were first introduced in the US, a test was conducted early on to assess how the defences would work in practice.
On the warning systems there appeared to be an attack originating from Russia (although in fact there was none). According to their orders, those operating the ICBMs were supposed to launch their missiles immediately in response to just such an eventuality. But it turned out that very few did: the problem was, they had never faced this situation, and most were paralysed by doubts and fear, which made them hesitate to take such an extreme step.
The solution was ingenious. Instead of battling – probably in vain – against human nature, and hoping that things went better next time, the military powers decided to cause multiple apparent attacks to occur every day. Gradually, the doubts and fears about pressing the launch button wore off thanks to the repeated nature of the exercise, and the response to these fictive attacks approached 100%.
The beauty of this approach is that should a real attack be launched, the response will be just as good, since those responding will have no way of knowing that it is not just another practice alert to keep them on their toes.
So how about applying this to spam? Here's how it would work.
A number of government security organisations around the world – think national spam centres – would routinely send out what looked like spam to all email users.
In appearance, these would be identical to the real thing: they would offer all the improbable improvements to parts of your anatomy, or access to multi-million pound bank accounts for very little effort. All the usual – and highly-effective - tricks of social engineering would be deployed in order to persuade users to respond.
Most people would simply ignore these fake spams, as they do other junk that they find in their inboxes. But a few – as always - would respond. That's good: for these are precisely the people who make spam viable, providing enough incentive for spammers to send out billions of mails to the rest of us.
These are also the people who click on infected Word documents, or visit dodgy Web sites and infect the rest of the ecosystem. So it is precisely these people that need to be educated.
The fake spam would allow that to happen. For instead of receiving information about wondrous pills, or large sums of money, those who succumb to the siren-like call of the spam would, instead, receive a gentle warning – by email or from special Web sites the fake spam respondents would be directed to - from the national spam centres explaining that had this been a real spam email, they would have suffered various negative consequences, and that maybe it would be best to ignore such offers in the future.
Some of those receiving these messages might take note, and resolve never to fall for spam again (or at least be more sceptical). Others will not. But those who do not will then fall for *more* fake spam in the future, and receive yet more warning messages. This will carry on until one day the penny drops, and even they become at least more resistant to spam (since no one is *completely* immune to the clever ploys employed).