Zeno’s Webmail Security Team Account Confirmation

December 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

| Gabriel |

Last year I described how a “reply to all” cascade follows an s-curve. Now (via Slashdot) I see that another pathology of email results in the other classic diffusion process. That is, the number of hits received by phishing scams follow the constant hazard function, otherwise known as an “external influence” diffusion curve or Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise.


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This is of course entirely predictable from theory. Once you realize that people aren’t forwarding links to phishing scams, but only clicking on links spammed to them directly then it’s obvious that there will not be an endogenous hazard function. Furthermore, con artists know that the good guys will shut down their site ASAP which means that it is in their interest to send out all their spam messages essentially simultaneously. Thus you have a force that people are exposed to simultaneously and they react to individualistically. Under these scope conditions it is necessarily the case that you’d get this diffusion curve and you’d get a majority of fraud victims within the first hour.

This only comes as at all surprising to people because we’re so enamored of s-curves that we forget that sometimes people open their umbrellas because it’s raining. (Which is not to say that such behavior is asocial in a broader sense).

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