Spam Nation is a book about the investigation of some of the world’s biggest spammers, their operations and financial affairs. It is written by an investigative journalist, who appears to have spent the last decade or so researching security issues.
Most people, myself included, see Spam as that inconvenient thing that occasionally invades your inbox. Probably the closest most people have come to a hacker is when a member of their friends or family frantically emails them saying that their email or Facebook has been hacked, and to ignore any strange messages they might have received.
Behind many of these schemes are shadowy groups of organised – or disorganised as Krebs argues – criminals who use mysterious networks of hijacked computers to send billions of emails to unsuspecting netizens. I have always wondered about who the people are who buy things from these spam – obviously they wouldn’t be spending all of this time and effort sending out spam if they weren’t making money from it. Krebs includes a chapter on his attempts to research the people who actually buy the products which are being promoted.
It is difficult to separate some of the story from Krebs’ slight obsession with involving himself in the story. I understand that part of his investigative reporting he has developed relationships with some of the people who are involved, but there are times which I felt like he did indulge in a little e-peen waving. (ironic given that a lot of spam involves penis enlargement pills) This style works in journalistic works, but I found it rather off-putting in a longer piece like this.
In the end I was surprised that I found the book as interesting as I did. While on the face of it, Spam might not seem like the sexiest topic in the world, but the journey into the strange underworld of Russian disorganised crime made it more than just tech-talk.
While I found this book a reasonably engaging read, Krebs’ self-insertions aside, I don’t think this has mainstream appeal, and if I wasn’t particularly interested in the topic, I may not have picked up this book.