Spam’s new flavours: Filtering keeps more unwanted messages inboxes but provokes more sophisticated scams

When Luis von Ahn gives talks on his work fighting spam, he likes to start by asking the audience a question. “How many of you have had to fill out one of those web forms that asks you to read a distorted sequence of letters or a word?” he asks. “How many of you found that annoying?”As the hands shoot up, he breaks into a grin: “I invented that.”Von Ahn is a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and was the recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” worth $500,000 in 2006. His work on the “captcha” – those irritating automated tests that help distinguish humans from computers – is probably one of the most important advances in spam-fighting since the birth of email.

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