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Anthrax To Kill Snail Mail 522

omnirealm writes "Steven Levy over at NBC expressed his opinion that the new anthrax thread in our snail-mail is going to be a major catalyst to a general switch to e-mail as the primary means of written communication."
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Anthrax To Kill Snail Mail

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  • er... no... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:17PM (#2425358) Homepage Journal
    I thought the 34-cent stamp took care of that pretty well.

    I'm not exactly afraid of getting Anthrax in the mail.

    - A.P.
  • by joshtimmons ( 241649 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:20PM (#2425369) Homepage
    At least that would mean that our representatives in government might start actually reading email.
    • ...or just have a lot more free time on their hands!

    • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:56PM (#2425490) Journal
      At least that would mean that our representatives in government might start actually reading email.

      uh, no.

      Simply put the reps are all spammed out. Every single interest group in the country country can send thousands of email to a rep, complete with slightly varied names and subject lines, and content. It is a trivial programing problem to generate sentences and paragraphs out of a database with calibration for education level and other demographics. Any programmer competent in databases could set something like this up.

      So the only way reps can verify that the input is legit is if it is postmarked from their district, hand written, etc.

      You think you get Junk Mail? multiply what you get by a factor of a thousand or two for snail mail, especially if you live in an important district.

      So the odds of them actually reading email are slim and none. Think of them being under a continous DDOS attack for the past 5+ years, if not more. They probably pick out one out of every 100 or 200 or so at random, and use that as a sample of what they get

  • by mj6798 ( 514047 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:21PM (#2425371)
    from an infected paper cut. Pardon me while I'm not worried. And until E-mail gets the same legal standing as snail mail (complete with legally recognized notarization, authentication, and proof of delivery) we can't replace snail mail.
    • Besides, the digital divide really is too big! Even within the Western World, let alone when you consider international communication! I'm sure there'd be some pretty pissed off people if they couldn't get a letter/postcard from their friends/family in some of the less priveleged parts of the world, where the postal service is slow but the only real means of communication.

      Personally, I still use real letters for the personal touch, and I love to recieve a really nice letter from someone I don't see very often. There's jst something special about a letter, its something people take time over and put a bit of effort into. Emails are just too easy, people reel them off all the time!

    • by einhverfr ( 238914 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `srevart.sirhc'> on Saturday October 13, 2001 @09:30PM (#2425596) Homepage Journal
      Of course, that is exactly the danger from cutanious (sp?) anthrax-- the infected paper-cut.

      I have argued that disasterous bioterrorism is truly prohibitive. This current attack is not very effective at causing large numbers of deaths BUT it is bisible and makes people very nervous. If they wanted to kill people, explosives would be much better weapons, but that is not their goal. Instead it is to intimidate many people and make them FEAR death. And to this end, this little stunt may be very infected indeed. This is why lovebug, et. al. have not caused people to switch from Outlook, but this scare might impact the USPS-- the fear is not purportionate to the risk (I still consider using Outlook to be a bigger risk than snail mail).

      But although email is already my primary means of written communication, there are some times when it is not as good as an old-fassioned letter. So I am not terribly concerned except to consider snailmail to be as dangerious as email...

    • by cwhicks ( 62623 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @09:46PM (#2425644)
      Yes. This is the stupidest premise I've heard in a while. First off, only the people who send mail can switch to email, and why would someone sending antrax want to switch? Secondly, how would switching help unless companies say they will only accept email, and no more snail mail. That sounds like a business ending decision. There is a large amount of stuff sent between businesses that is much more conveniently done through snail mail. Every business is going to buy scanners, have everyone get their electronic signature, purchase and instruct everyone in encryption, etc? All this because four, count em, four companies have received antrax email? How many companies have received mail bombs before this? And they still use mail? Wow!
      My last question is why was this article posted to begin with?
    • by spudnic ( 32107 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @10:16PM (#2425743)
      Not only that, but are people going to stop using UPS and FedEx also? Is their some law stating that you can only send antrax via the "official" carrier (ie, USPS)?

    • by Raunchola ( 129755 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @10:33PM (#2425790)
      Hi! How are you? I send you this anthrax in order to have your advice.

      See you later. Thanks.
  • Hmm.... (Score:2, Funny)

    by s88 ( 255181 )
    Can someone help me, im trying to find out how to send a "written" letter using email?

  • I thought they were using powder...
    • I meant to type "threat." It's this strange curse, I guess. No matter how hard I try, typo's always seem to slip through...
    • Something that Scott Ian wears?
  • by Tony Shepps ( 333 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:23PM (#2425384) Homepage
    "Read this, and other stories, in this month's edition of 'Duh' magazine."
  • by kmcmartin ( 248018 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:26PM (#2425389) Homepage
    In the interest of authentication, perhaps this would be a good thing. If more people used digital signatures, more people would likely find it easier to begin using encryption as well. NAI might be kicking themselves over selling off its PGP division after all. How do you know if the bill you got by email is really from your VISA company, and not from Evil Eve the Eavesdropper?

    Most government officials would likely right this off as paranoia, and unnecessary because *nobody* would EVER want to wiretap its citizens and steal their credit card information.
    • +1, Insightful if I had it.

      I never really thought about it, but imagine a business sending a package and printing out a barcode to digitally sign the package with an MD5 of the source and destination addresses. Then when the post office recieves the package, a laser scan of the barcode and visual inspection of the sending and destination address will allow them to accept or reject packages.

      Hell, I think they should already reject packages that have way too much postage and weren't dropped off at a post office, especially those without a return address.
  • by jimhill ( 7277 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:26PM (#2425391) Homepage
    It's interesting that Levy thinks the end of snail mail is in sight when digital means of authentication are rarely used -- when available. Now that Sen. Gregg and his like-minded compatriots have launched another offensive on crypto software, expect the issue to get even more snarled. It takes more than "Sincerely, Jim" at the bottom of an email to make me trust its source.
    • Actually, regular old mail has some pretty darn good authentication. The FBI didn't have much on the unabomber until they compared the DNA from the saliva on the back of a stamp [mercurycenter.com] to David Kaczynski's DNA, and verified his fears that his brother Ted may be the guilty one. That's a lot stronger evidence (and much harder to deny) than an ill-placed private key. Of course, this authentication is usually just restricted to law enforcement...
  • Really, the average person doesn't need to be worried about getting anthrax in the mail. I don't think its much of an issue - at least its not for me.

    People forget that snail mail is still very important to having an effective communications, as in many cases it can't be beat. The quickest way to get something physical from one place to another (barring courier services) is by mail. To say that the USPS is dead because no one will want to mail stuff is not only premature and unrealistic, but also quite sensationalistic. In most cases, this one especially you can tell when someone is making stuff up to make the headlines rather than writing stuff that actually makes good sense. Having read this article, it makes very little sense at all. As much as I use computers/email, I for one would be majorly pissed if one day I found mail service was no longer there.

    People say time and time again the mail is dead. But just look ... its still there and doesn't show any sign of disappearing.
    • its a silly supposition that people will stop sending mail ... and this is why:

      You don't *choose* what medium communications *TO* you take. If I get a CC bill in the mail, I mail a check. If I get a phonecall, I return the call. if I get an email I send an email. You can only choose the medium of conversations you initiate :) So the only way sending e-mail instead of snail mail is going to reduce your risk of getting anthrax is if you are the person mailing antrax to people :)

      The only thing that could help would be for potential victims (companies apparently) to declare they only will accept email.

      • I disagree somewhat.

        I get bills in the mail, and pay them electronically. If the vendor does not support electronic transfer, my bank takes care of the check-printing and mailing for me, without my knowledge.

        I get phone messages at work. (a nice button on my phone keeps it from ringing about 80% of the time.) I return those messages via email.

        So when you say you return correspondence in the way initiated, I say you don't have to.

        I certainly don't!
  • by ainsoph ( 2216 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:27PM (#2425395) Homepage
    You would think that the FBI would do a lot better than this with regards to the Anthrax "crisis".

    I think it is pretty damn scary that they can ignore something like this for as long as they did.

    FBI did not test suspect NBC package for 2 weeks

    NEW YORK: The FBI failed to test the suspicious powder sent to an NBC employee in New York for two weeks and it was a private doctor who raised the alarm over the new case of anthrax, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

    The report said that the FBI was notified about the powder on September 25, picked it up a day later but did not do any laboratory tests on the powder or take skin samples from the NBC employee who handled the package.

    The report said that it was only after the NBC staffer - identified as 38-year-old Erin O' Connor - developed a sore on her chest, visited several doctors and was diagnosed with skin anthrax that the powder was tested.

    The powder was eventually found to be negative. New York FBI chief Barry Mawn said that it was "unfortunate" the tests were not conducted immediately. Mawn said that the FBI had investigated dozens of suspicious substances since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    Unfortunate, yes but for the first few days that this was coming up they really tried to downplay it like it was not going on. On 'Politically Incorrect' a replublican strategist said they were thinking of suing CNN for falsly creating a Anthrax scare.

    Doesnt look false to me.
    • You might consider that the FBI (especially in the NYC area) has alot to do right now. Ever since 9-11 the FBI has been charged by the President with the task of prevention of further attacks. I imagine the FBI is spread thin between the "Ground Zero" investigation, the hunt for evidence to link a state to these acts, and the pursuit of protecting the public from further attack.

      Yes, 2 weeks is a long time, but The Sun employee who died in Florida was the wake up call that made everyone start looking for Anthrax in the mail. That was last weekend when he died.

  • Hysteria (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bud Dwyer ( 527622 )
    Why should we let terrorists change the way we do business? Isn't that exactly what we don't want?

    So far, we have reports of three letters supposedly laced with Anthrax. One death has resulted, and no more deaths seem likely. These are hardly numbers warranting an end to snail mail.

    The news media seriously needs to stop trying to incite hysteria in the American public.

  • While many people may have to switch to e-mail if this anthrax scare continues, I doubt it'll completely kill snail mail.. People are sentimental, or at least I am. I love receiving handwritten letters from my friends and family.. not to mention photos I can hold in my hand and hang on my wall.. e-mail won't replace this for me..
  • Great... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Russ Steffen ( 263 )

    Great. I'm looking forward to a whole Inbox full of "I send you this anthrax to have your advice...".

  • As much as anything under the heading of "biological warfare" is scary, the idea of getting anthrax doesn't send me into a fit of panic.

    I found a bunch of interesting and reassuring information on Heathlinkusa.com [healthlinkusa.com].

    The fact is, there exists both a cure for anthrax and even a vaccine. There's an article on ABCNews [] that explains how anthrax works, and that if caught early enough, it can be treated with penicillin.

    My theory is that the anthrax infections we've been reading about are not the responsibility of terrorists, but just some nutcase somewhere in the country who is trying to scare the hell out of everyone, although I cannot fathom why.

    • The "so called" vaccine is really just a toxin they pump into your body that kills the bacteria. Its not a true vaccine in the regular sense. You can't really vaccinate (in the traditional sense) against bacteria.

      The affects of the "vaccine" are debatable, I know people who left the military (dishonorable discharge) over not taking an antrax vaccine. It also involves a series of shots over several weeks followed by a shot every year to keep the toxins up in your body. Cure worse than disease?

      Anthrax is anthrax, if you happen to breath it you die.

      You won't really know you have it until your dead.

      Another intersting fact that should bother everyone here some... The case of inhaled anthrax is the first documented case of anthrax in the last 25 YEARS

      Not just here, anywhere. Of course now everyone will be looking for it so cutaneous may get identified more readily but still... 25 years and not one inhaled case and all of this sudden three cases in two completely different geographical regions?

      A letter sent to microsoft with Anthrax?

      No I doubt anyones gonna send me anthrax, and no im not worried about anyone using anthrax to kill people

      Anthrax is now popularized in the media, there are scarier things out there than anthrax.

    • The fact is, there exists both a cure for anthrax and even a vaccine. There's an article on ABCNews [] that explains how anthrax works, and that if caught early enough, it can be treated with penicillin.

      The vaccine is currently reserved for US Military personnel. The company that produces it isn't even capable of meeting the military's needs. Plus, there are a lot of fears about the side effects; some people think it's at least partially responsible for Gulf War Syndrome.

      Pulmonary Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics up to a point. After serious symptoms develop, antibiotics aren't particularly effective. Treating the disease requires knowing that you've been exposed (or may have been exposed), then getting medicated ASAP. In a serious attack, there's no guarantee that these things could happen quickly enough to avoid a good number of deaths.

      My theory is that the anthrax infections we've been reading about are not the responsibility of terrorists, but just some nutcase somewhere in the country who is trying to scare the hell out of everyone

      It's a good theory. But it's still scary to think that there's somebody in the country who's a) got Anthrax, and b) is willing to use it on innocent people. It's not a huge step from there to releasing it in a public place. At this point, our best hope is that they don't have a good mix of the stuff.

    • As much as anything under the heading of "biological warfare" is scary, the idea of getting anthrax doesn't send me into a fit of panic.

      Inhaled or ingested anthrax is not pretty or very treatable. However, if contracted through the skin, it is relatively easy to treat.

      The thing is it is not very contagious. Therefore, it is not the "good weapon" that you speak of because the target area is so small. How many unsuccessful attempts to infect people with Anthrax were there that we don't know about? Probably a very large number.

      However, it is not destruction or death but fear that these people want to provoke. Anthrax IS a good tool for that because it is a boogey-man.
  • This is one of the more extreme examples of ridiculous predictions over how life will change in the US after 9/11. The tons of reasons people have used actual written/printed communication in the past continue to exist, and will not easily be supplanted by *anything* electronic. (Think about all the documents we use that require witness signatures or notarizing and then are kept in archives for decades.)

    In other words, this article is just one big troll.

  • by mesocyclone ( 80188 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:36PM (#2425418) Homepage Journal
    Look at the money to be made! Maybe Symantec or McAfee can come up with a "virus" scanner for Snail Mail. Clearly its needed.
  • ... well, at least that's been the case in the United States of Microsoft.

  • the new anthrax thread in our snail-mail is going to be a major catalyst

    Hey, where did you get the threading snail-mail client?

  • How crazy is this? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sharlskdy ( 460886 )
    Someone targets airplanes, and people stop flying. Someone targets mail, and people stop using mail. Is this kind of a response reasonable? There's a lot of knee-jerk reactions which are not necessarily effective, and the economic effects of wholesale eschewment of mail and air travel are pretty widespread.

    This suggestion reminds me of the panic surrounding the unibomber. People were afraid to send and receive packages, although millions of packages were sent through the FedEx, UPS and the mail every day.

    It is upsetting that mail is something we can't implicitly trust after the events of the last week, but it is an extremely useful and, I think, necessary tool. Air travel is still quite safe and I expect to continue to fly when I need to without much thought of what if...

    I refuse to live my life worried every minute about what might happen.
    • by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:58PM (#2425494) Homepage Journal

      Someone targets airplanes, and people stop flying. Someone targets mail, and people stop using mail. Is this kind of a response reasonable? There's a lot of knee-jerk reactions which are not necessarily effective, and the economic effects of wholesale eschewment of mail and air travel are pretty widespread.

      Yet in other areas people are so incredibly complacent. People will put off travel despite an impossibly remote possibility of being a victim of travel, but they'll happily hop on the local highway without regard for hundreds of 20,000lb transports hurtling down the road at 75mph all around them, any of which could crush them to death in the slightest instant if the driver just flicked the steering wheel the tiniest bit. 41,611 [dot.gov] people were killed in automobile accidents alone in 1999 on US roads. 430,700 people died per year between 1990 and 1994 [cdc.gov] from cigarette smoking alone. It's quite stunning really the fear that the media can drum up when we come to live with enormously costly things like the millions that die every year because of voluntarily choosing to eat Big Macs and other high saturated fat foods.

      I'm not saying that dying at the hand to terrorists is comparable to voluntarily undertaken risks, but it does seem that some things are being grossly overstated, such as the risks of anthrax.

      • ... it does seem that some things are being grossly overstated, such as the risks of anthrax.

        The implications of what your are saying, if there are any implications, is that people shouldn't worry about anthrax until more than 41,611 people are infected per year. Reasonable people do not look at risk this way.

        People typically make a rough risk/reward calculation when they take an action. The benefits of driving are high and the risk fairly low. If there are alternatives to using airplanes and the mail and thereby reduce the risk, however remote, the reasonable thing is to use them.

        In addition, the perceived risks of driving and terrorism are not comparable. Drivers can take reasonable precautions to reduce their risk such as obeying traffic laws, not drinking, keeping their car in repair, etc. There are no similar ways for prudent individuals to reduce the risk from hijacking and bioterrorism except not flying and not using mail.

        So far, the level of panic resulting from the terrorist attacks and the threat of bioterrorism has been low, perhaps unexpectedly low, both in the general public and in public officials. So far, the American public should be complemented for their coolness, not mocked, with irrelevant statistics.

    • There's a lot of knee-jerk reactions which are not necessarily effective...

      Actually the reactions are extremely effective. Not flying completely eliminates the personal threat of hijacking. Grounding all airplanes was the completely reasonable reaction when the hijackings first occurred and people can reasonably take their cue from that act. Similarly, not using mail completely eliminates the threat of catching a horrible disease from the mail. Many large corporations x-ray parcels in their mailrooms because of the remote possibility of bombs. Until similar methods can be devised for regular mail, individuals must take whatever precautions they can.

      ...and the economic effects of wholesale eschewment of mail and air travel are pretty widespread.

      The idea that one should increase one's risk of dying for the benefit of airline industry or the economy in general is surely one of the least helpful suggestion since Mayor Guiliani suggested everyone go shopping.

      Changing one's behavior when faced with a new threat is a reasonable thing to do. Once the full extent of the threat is known and some countermeasures are in place, people may change their behavior again. The dumbest reaction would be to proceed as if nothing had happened.

  • Mail beats Email (Score:5, Informative)

    by maggard ( 5579 ) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:43PM (#2425443) Homepage Journal
    There a couple of serious impediments to abolishing mail.

    1. Universal penetration. Everyone in the USA has a postal address. Park benches are legitimate delivery addresses (yes - tested in court.) Only a fraction of the population has email or will likely have such in the near future.
    2. Universal transmission. I can send a postal letter around the world and assume that the recipient will be able to recieve it. From major world capitols to off-the-map slums postal service has a reasonably good tradition of getting through. Email again requires that the recipient haave the same or some alternative last-mile system - not at all typical.
    3. There are no good address-lookup or general-delivery mechanisms for email. If I want to contact Somebody at BigCorp I can look up BigCorp's address and send a letter to Somebody there, it'll generally get manually routed properly. If I know the town Somebody lives in I can often simply look them up in a ubiquitious phonebook or online and assuming they're listed and have a sufficiently unique name I've got their address. There are some services that attempt to provide this for email but they're mostly useless.
    4. There's a large body of law concerning the privacy of letters, the delivery of such, etc. This is NOT the case for email. Frankly I trust the folks of the USPS to transport my mail securely & reliably far more then I do the monkeys at my ISP and the servers between me & my email's destination.
    5. While there are encryption and authenticaion mechanisms for email they're about useless as far as the general population or even most businesses are concerned. Postal mail has no authentication but it does generally get delivered to the right place securely.
    6. Most postal addresses are good for both letters & package deliveries, neither of which is true for email.
    7. Postal mail is free to recieve and only costs the sender some change. Email requires either a computer system and ISP or access to a public facility offering this.
    8. Courts don't recognize email as a delivery mechanism and certianly not for material that must be signed for.

      Frankly with 1 case of transmission of anthrax by postal mail I think the whole topic is foolish and a sad attempt by a columnist to get some attention.

  • by jmauro ( 32523 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:44PM (#2425447)
    I mean first, metal music was forcing kids to kill themselves, then metal music was forcing kids to kill their parents. Then, Tipper Gore thought metal music was destroying America. Now, Anthrax [anthrax.com] is killing the USPS? Who'd of thought. I always thought the RIAA wanted to prevent music transfered over the internet. Now others want Anthrax transmitted over email. How weird.

    In other news, Anthrax is going to change it's name to "Basket Full Of Puppies" [washingtonpost.com]
  • feh. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by motherhead ( 344331 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:46PM (#2425456)
    Insane. A handful of jackasses mail a handful of poison apples and one writer has an epiphany that an America will now forsake using the postal system.

    I send or respond to hundreds of emails a day, as I am sure quite a few of us do, personally I find it is the differences between email and snail mail that make it cornerstone of society.

    Email lets me communicate to someone using electronic representations of words or images. Powerful stuff, certainly powerful enough to conduct business and maintain strong lines of communication with family and friends.

    But snail mail allows my kids, my wife, to create something for me physically and to send it thousands of miles away for me to hold in my hands, if you ever got a perfumed letter from your woman when you have been jonesing for her for weeks, you realize why email is not a final postal solution.

    Never mind that I do 60% of my shopping online and receive parcels in a timely fashion from all four corners of this country and from a couple others. Never mind that if an old acquaintance wants to contact me the odds of him finding my physical address is greater then him stumbling into my email address. Never mind that letters written by pen usually have greater value both in terms of the thought that went into them and to the appreciation of the reader.

    Yeah junk mail sucks ass and needs to be addressed and destroyed. I am not saying snail mail is not silly with flaws. What I am saying is this is horseshit. We lived through the unibomber and if you are old enough you might remember that in the early seventies mail-bombs were flying around in a near epidemic. Unibomber-boy (teddy K) did not invent it. And hey look, the problem is so bad most of the kids on slash dot won't have a clue about it.

    Man when bored journalists with deadlines write shitty pieces I don't get upset, I know a job is a job. But responding/reacting to it is just plain stupid.
  • by garett_spencley ( 193892 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @08:47PM (#2425461) Journal
    Okay, I'm very sick of the media and government trying to scare people by making them believe that they are at threat from biological and chemical weapons used by terrorists.

    The fact of the matter is that biological and chemical weapons just aren't practical. They are pretty fucking dangerous, I won't argue that. But they are very impractical as weapons of mass destruction.

    For example, out of the thousands of people in the subway in tokyo where a bunch of wacko's sprayed sarin gas only 12 people were killed. 12 out of thousands. A success? I say no.

    You see, first of all it takes a lot of money and people with very huge educations just to produce the stuff. Then it is incredibly hard and dangerous to transport it. You run the risk of infecting yourself.

    But the real reason that we aren't going to see a whole lot of these attacks is because the payload just isn't high enough. After spending millions of dollars to produce the stuff, expending a couple chemists who died in the shitty-ass lab in afghanistan producing it you've only killed a couple people. It's much cheaper, easier and kills a lot more people to just set off a bomb in some building.

    But what about just making people sick? After all there was something like 5500 people pooring into the hospitals in tokyo after the sarin gass. Well what they didn't tell you is that 90% of those people were just people who panicked because they were in the subway that day and wanted to get checked out.

    And don't forget that before that incident the same terrorist group had tried to use anthrax. They sprayed the shit off a building onto a group of civilians and no one was infected by it.

    I read a good article about this written by a phd in microbiology. It contains many more facts that I haven't discussed. You can read it here [villagevoice.com].

    • Re; Aum Shinrekio (sp?) the sarin gat attack was actually their tenth attack using chemical and biological agents. It was the only one anybody actually noticed or died from. 10 attempts and 12 deaths. Not very effective.

      But-- the threat is more dangerious than the disease. Would YOU drink the water if someone claimed to have dumped biological agents in it?
    • by dgroskind ( 198819 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @10:16PM (#2425744)

      The fact of the matter is that biological and chemical weapons just aren't practical.

      In fact, there has already been a successful biological attack on American soil. It was carried out in 1984 by a bunch of amateurs, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who poisoned over 700 people with botulism that they spread on salad bars in Oregon.

      The 9/11 terrorists have shown themselves to be resourceful, if not practical, and ruthless enough to use biological weapons. One could have once argued, with equal logic, that hijacking airliners and crashing them into skyscrapers "was just not practical".

      If news reports are to be believed, the U.S. mail has already proved to be viable way of spreading two different kinds of anthrax. The only constraint of using the mail is the thousands of dollars involved in postage for a mass mailing.

      It's much cheaper, easier and kills a lot more people to just set off a bomb in some building.

      On a cost per thousand basis, there's nothing cheaper than biological weapons, particularly if you use a contageous one like smallpox, as the article you cite suggests at the end. The writer of that article seems to think the fact that the terrorists themselves might be at risk is a deterent.

      Although there may be some technological hurdles, the payoff both in terms of casualties and creating terror is unbeatable.

      If people are complacent about the threat of biological terrorism, the terrorists have already overcome their biggest obstacle.

    • Anthrax may not be all that effective because it is very hard to distribute but that doesn't mean that A) it should be ignored and B) that we should dismiss the potential danger of other biological weapons. If small pox were to be re-introduced in several cities at once, that could have a devistating effect on the population. Everyone after (I believe it is) 1975 are not immunized against it. It is possible that the Taliban may have gotten a former Soviet scientist from some lab in Kazakstan or Uzbekistan who had a vial of the stuff.

      Anyway, the several reports of anthrax have caused quite a panic in Florida. Accoriding to NPR one pharmacy normally only fill 20 perscriptions of the antibiotic that is used to fight anthrax daily, and they have seen that climb to 300! Salon magazine has a decent article about the Anthrax scare.
  • What does Anthrax [anthrax.com] (the band) have to say about all this? And even more importantly, when is somebody going to sue them for mental distress after seeing their name?

    (Just saw on their web site they are actually still touring! Yeesh!)

  • Snailmail is in no way "dying." E-mail doesn't have a reliable method of authentication (unless you count packages such as PGP and GPG, which almost nobody utilizes), so that makes it pretty much impossible to convert its legal equivalency to that of snailmail's.

    Sorry. Please stop with the "Snailmail is dying" trolls. ;)
  • Ok, let's see, now that congress is passing all these laws that make it ok for the government to read everyone's e-mail (carnivore) it really makes you think. Anthrax isn't that easy to come by from what I've heard (even though it does occur naturally), but government labs seem to have quite a bit of it. Considering all the rights people are giving up already we might as well just add this to the list. Seriously, this kinda stuff scares me more than the terrorists do.

    So when you add everything up, we'll have armed military guards in the street to "keep the peace", we'll have flying video cameras to record our every move, our phone conversations can be tapped, and now they want to force everyone to use e-mail. So it seems that the government will be able to know your every move if they want to.

    It wouldn't be hard to play off a terrorist thing in order to get political power over everyone. Hitler did the same thing. Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it they say, it's just too bad most people didn't learn.
  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @09:08PM (#2425530) Homepage Journal
    No matter how much you may think mail sent to you on dead trees is outdated, there are reasons the old fashoined mail is not going away for a good long time.
    • Postal mail creates jobs
    • packages - What's the point in all this e-commerce if nobody has anything delivered anymore?
    • Utility Bills - Until some laws are changed you must be provided with an invoice for your purchase and written notification of money owed.
    • Taxes - Like anything done by the government, this ones going to be done the old world way for a long time.
    • Books and periodicals - Some people (myself included) prefer to read anything of great length on paper. Also there is a certain pride in owning a handsome book, admiring the cover as you put it away on a shelf, where you will never touch it again.
    • registered mail - any sort of mail that requires a signature is coming to you the old fashioned way. I know, there's a million technical solutions that would make this work as digital, but your written signature is an important legal tool that people will continue to hit you over the head with forever.

    If the day comes when the government says snail mail is going away, watch out. If you think Uncle Sam has opinions about your computer and the software you run now, wait until you see the regulations that will be imposed on email.

    One thing that may happen as fallout is small business may get out of the private delivery business. The mail is now going to need to be x-rayed and electronically sniffed. Business such as a Mial Box Express or Joe's overnight delivery are not going to have money for the new array of equiptment that they will be told they must own.

    The things that will work to reduce the amount of snail mail - Mail is about to become slower and less reliable. When a pathogen is discovered in the mail, any parcels that may have physically contacted it will need to be destroyed.

    People are now uneasy to open a package or parcel they were not expecting. This will make it less likely for advertisements to continue to be sent via mail. Expect to see an increase in Spam, and a relaxation in laws that control it.

    • I agree with your conclusion, but almost none of your arguments:

      Postal mail creates jobs

      So did iceboxes. The ice men found new jobs.

      packages - What's the point in all this e-commerce if nobody has anything delivered anymore?

      I've had at least a dozen packages ordered online and delivered. Some used UPS, some used FedEx; none used the postal service.

      Utility Bills - Until some laws are changed you must be provided with an invoice for your purchase and written notification of money owed.

      I'm sure laws here vary from state to state, but I no longer legally have to get paper confirmation of every single stock trade I make, for one example, I just had to formally agree that email confirmation alone would be acceptable. There are a lot of non-utility services that are willing to go without sending you a written bill if they have a credit card number or checking account transfer information, and there are ways to pay many bills on line more manually if you feel the need to personally authorize each transaction. This is a good reason, but not a show stopper.

      Taxes - Like anything done by the government, this ones going to be done the old world way for a long time.

      Yeah, by people who want to do it the old world way. The IRS at least has been accepting electronic submissions on their most commonly used forms for years.

      Books and periodicals - Some people (myself included) prefer to read anything of great length on paper.

      Me too. But that's just an eyestrain thing with me; I'm really looking forward to seeing some of these "electronic paper" technologies being prototyped. Besides, most of my books come from a bookstore and most of my periodicals come online, nowadays.

      Also there is a certain pride in owning a handsome book, admiring the cover as you put it away on a shelf, where you will never touch it again.

      You have an odd sense of pride - this is really the sentence that prompted my response, as your psychology fascinates me. I have a couple untouched books on my shelves, but generally that status is a source of shame, not pride.

      registered mail - any sort of mail that requires a signature is coming to you the old fashioned way. I know, there's a million technical solutions that would make this work as digital, but your written signature is an important legal tool that people will continue to hit you over the head with forever.

      This you may be right about. Frankly, digital signatures are much harder to forge than the old-fashioned kind, but way too permanently stealable. Can you imagine if every instance of ILOVEYOU had installed a keyboard sniffer to grab passphrases?

    • Books and periodicals - Some people (myself included) prefer to read anything of great length on paper. Also there is a certain pride in owning a handsome book, admiring the cover as you put it away on a shelf, where you will never touch it again.

      Levy's remarks about e-books replacing real books eliminated what little credibility he had failed to squander with the rest of the article. E-books deserved to be ranked with "Internet appliances" and communism as ideas that look dumb on paper (or e-paper) and even dumber in practice.

      • Books are much cheaper than e-books. (When was the last time you had to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for a machine to read a paper book?)
      • Books are more convenient than e-books.
      • Books are not harmed by electromagnetic fields or temperatures under 451 F.
      • You can even get books wet without rendering them unreadable, though I wouldn't recommend it.
      • Books don't require electricity or recharging.
      • Books are readable from a wide range of angles.
      • You can drop books. You might even drop them on purpose, just for effect.
      • Books formats never become unusably obsolete. The default platform for book-reading has not changed since the human species evolved. Even obsolete formats, e.g. scrolls and clay tablets, are still readable with the latest hardware.
      • Airport security will not ask you to boot your books at the gate, nor will the pilot ask you to turn off your books during takeoff and landing.
      • Best of all, there's no digital rights management BS with respect to books, which means
        • You can check them out from libraries for free.
        • There is no license to agree to and no rights to surrender.
        • You can usually return them without a hassle.
        • No company will ever revoke your ability to read a book because they don't like the way you use it.
        • You can legally criticize books.
        • You can resell books because you actually own them after you pay for them.
        • You can loan books to friends without acquiring a site-license.

      Much of the same applies to mail.
  • The USPS cannot die! (Score:2, Informative)

    by mrBoB ( 63135 )
    Keep in mind folks, the USPS is chartered in the United State Constitution. See Article 1, section 8, "The Congress shall have the power to: ... establish post offices and post roads." Check out usconstituion.net [usconstitution.net]. Now I wouldn't be surprised if the USPS ends up having to purchase fancy devices to look for questionable substances being shipped in letters and packages. Of course any changes made to their business will impact our service. Most obvious being an increase in the price of stamps ;-) I don't think the Supreme Court would find an amendment putting the USPS to sleep being Constitutional. That would be like Congress passing an Amendment that the office of the President of the United States be removed... Just look on the bright side; the USPS is going to _HAVE_ to do _SOMETHING_ to deal with this threat. Hopefully in the near future you won't have to be concerned about being infected with Anthrax through the Postal service. Now ensuring your drinking water is safe is another story ;-) -Bob
    • if ("shall have the power to" == "shall be required to") {
      printf ("You are right.");
      else {
      printf ("What are you talking about?");

      // somehow I think that Congress has the power to
      // determine how and when they use their
      // constitutional powers...
    • [...]Now I wouldn't be surprised if the USPS ends up having to purchase fancy devices to look for questionable substances being shipped in letters and packages.[...]

      Maybe they should irridate all snailmail with gamma rays...

      Of course, you'd have to slap that "irridated food" label on all fruitcakes mailed at Christmastime.

      I think. Do Christmas fruitcakes count as food? Oh well, most deserve some kind of warning label anyway.

  • Mostly in NY, but I know of several places that have told me and others that I know "Dont send us snail-mail. We wont get it. Hard to say exactly what will happen, but this isnt isolated.
    I'm guessing the price of the stamp is going to go through the roof, however
  • by Col. Panic ( 90528 ) on Saturday October 13, 2001 @09:20PM (#2425572) Homepage Journal
    Someone is only going to fear opening a package when they don't know who is sending the letter/package. We will still open letters from family and friends since we recognize the return address. Likewise, when we order things by mail we are expecting them to arrive and can be reasonably sure of their safety.

    I think the columnist may have an argument when it comes to *unsolicited* snail mail. This may have an impact on public figures who regularly receive unsolicited mail from lots of people, but that could be a positive impact. Right now a written letter to one's Congress-critter is considered more effective than email, but maybe this unfortunate situation will make public officials consider email more legitimate now since they might be reluctant to receive "real" mail.

  • How come... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak@yaTOKYOhoo.com minus city> on Saturday October 13, 2001 @09:30PM (#2425599) Homepage Journal
    Eight cases of Anthrax could destroy the postal system (when only one person actually suffered any kind of catastrophic system failure from it), and tens of millions of Microsoft systems, causing potentially billions of dollars of damages in lost time, is merely a "system admin problem"?

    Besides, milions more are infected, and tens of people killed, from common diseases passed around the classroom!

  • While I think that's b.s. and we won't be THAT affected by Anthrax. This could be good if it would force lawmakers to get off their lazy butts and pass some decent anti-spam laws.

    Or just pass a law that says it's illegal to forge headers. That would be a start. Then I could handle spam in my own ways.
  • TO: Joe User
    FROM: TrendMicro ScanMail Exchange Edition
    RE: Re: Weather Report

    Your attachment, ANTHRAX.DOC.PIF , has been intercepted by the firewall. Please contact your system administrator.

    Please mention ticket number 0682090701ABS3724365.
  • I don't mean to sound like a troll or one of the incessant writers of flamebait, but I'm a little disappointed in Slashdot for this one. If this anthrax is an honest attempt at an attack, and it succeeds even in part, a lot more than snail mail is in serious danger.

    I just told a good friend who told me she had flu symptoms to phone the ER and see if she should go in, so I apologize if a dip in snail mail seems a bit on the trivial side at this moment.

    • I just told a good friend who told me she had flu symptoms to phone the ER and see if she should go in, so I apologize if a dip in snail mail seems a bit on the trivial side at this moment.

      Phone the ER because of flu symptoms? Sorry, but here in Ontario people going into their local ER because they had trivial things like a common cold or a regular flue is directly responsible for thousands or tens of thousands of deaths per year (because the guy who actually does have a problem gets deferred while the person with the headache gets treated). If you are saying "Stop the mail! Someone might die!" then that is absolutely, positively, grossly ridiculous and knee-jerkish: Did you know that every consumer good you buy has a "human cost" to it? Why not ban car travel, air travel, hell human interactions in general because people might die undertaking any of those? 96 people died building the Hoover dam? Do you think about that when you turn on your computer? The Empire State Building took 5 lives directly in its construction, and countless more in the mining, smelting and rolling of the metal to build it, in the transport to get items to and from the construction site, etc.

      "On a long enough timeline the survival rate for all of us is 0." Fight Club - Narrator (Jack) The human condition is one where death is part and parcel with the terroritory.

      • Hindsight is always 20/20. Unfortunately, knowledge of whether she's the person with the headache or the person with the problem is difficult to come by in advance. I'll spare the gory details, but suffice it to say that this isn't a runny nose.

        Ultimately, they didn't ask her to come in, but they didn't tell her she was ridiculous and also suggested that they would notify her if their opinion changed. I also believe you have misdiagnosed the issue; several EMTs with whom I am friendly warn of how dangerous a phony or unwarranted 911 call can be, but I've never really heard of a phone call to the emergency room costing lives, certainly not in the numbers you suggest.

        Your post interests me, but I am afraid I don't quite understand the link between it and "human cost." My sole point was that in the face of something which may kill dozens or hundreds of people, a jump in the number of emails seems unimportant to me.


  • Sheesh (Score:2, Redundant)

    by G-funk ( 22712 )
    First metallica killed napster, now anthrax is killing the postal service? Damned punk teenagers and their devil music.
  • Scaremongering (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by flegged ( 227082 )
    Fact 1: A few people got diagnosed with Anthrax.
    Fact 2: One of them opened a letter.

    And so suddenly it's a worldwide conspiracy by Emmanuel Goldstein^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^HUsama Bin Laden and Eastasia^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hthe Taleban. Who actually believes this shit? You might as well blame CJD on Saddam Hussein or Gulf War syndrome on the CIA. Ermm...

    Fact 3: Noone in the US postal service contracted Anthrax.

    The most likely explanation is that the people who got Anthrax bought some dodgy cocaine. Maybe if the .gov.us (it should NOT EVER BE .gov - the US dosn't run the world (although it tries hard)) used it as propaganda against drugs, then noone would take them. If only they would stop tripping out on their own holier-than-thou attitude, they would stop supplying weaponry to known terrorists. Maybe they'd eliminate the debt they and the world bank are pushing onto most of Africa. Maybe if they'd stop trying to police the rest of the world and cram their 'American Way' down the throat of people who really don't want to have anything to do with America, this whole sorry mess of crap would never have happened.

    I just wish the .gov.us and their bitches [cnn.com] would quit their hardon for the US and let everyone get on with lives, without having to listen to their bullshit, being spied on, or having advanced weaponry raining on their heads.

    I am not a troll (braces for a karma plummet). It's just that the US scares me far more than a handful of middle-east extremists who
    1) were given weapons by the US
    2) were never proven to have attacked the US (read the so-called evidence yourself. There is not a single statement which could not have been falsified. Nor which proves Bin Laden ordered the suicide attacks.)
    3) don't have the resources necessary to defend themselves against even one storming by the SAS. And yet are said to have chemical weapons. Right. Let's see those satellite pictures of where Goldstein is hiding. Which one of those caves has the chemical weapons plant?

    Offtopic? Whatever - I'm far more worried about security in email than snail mail. I use GPG, but if the US outlaw it, that will make me a terrorist. Thanks US. I can sleep easier now.
  • "Only the paranoid survive..."

    They have those scientists with pretty silver suits to handle snail mail with viral attachments...

  • The dangers of Anthrax and other bioweapons is hugely overstated. Anthrax is virtually harmless unless in powder form, and it is hugely expensive to create powdered Anthrax. It is also very difficult to deliver it, it tends to simply blow away and become so dispersed that it is harmless. Can Anthrax kill? Of course, but there are thousands of cheaper ways to kill people (letter bombs, guns, etc).
  • sort of how we all switched away from UPS and FedEx when people started sending mailbombs?
  • Hi! How are you?

    I send you this anthrax in order to have your advice.

    See you later. Thanks

    Seriously, though. Just about everybody with a computer has a modem, and a slightly smaller number of those people have a scanner. So why does he believe that e-mails are more advantageous than faxes?
  • As long as I still keep getting checks made out to me here in Florida and my bank sits in Texas, I'll always have at least one use for the USPSl.
  • 207,882,000,000 [postalfacts.com] anthrax-free parcels were delivered by the usps last year (that's 1/5th of a Trillion). Yeah, I think it's both pretty safe and here to stay.
  • I get junk mail. I get spam. Personally, if I had to choose one or the other, I'll go with the junk mail any day.

    The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that, for the recipient, junk mail is free. It may not be wanted, but I don't have to pay $20+ for the privledge to download it.

    Secondly, there is an appreciable cost for the advertiser to send junk mail, while a spammer only needs an internet account. The fact that the advertiser needs to worry about costs means that they'll be more careful with who to send the advertising to. I don't think I've ever gotten junk mail, for instance, that wasn't in English.

    If you get suckered into some shady deal through spam (bogus contests, pyramid schemes), about all you can do is ask their ISP nicely to please remove their account. If you get suckered into something similar through junk mail, the USPS has their very own law enforcement arm [usps.com] to hunt people like that down and prosecute them.

    And speaking of postal laws, there are legal limits to what unsolicited mail can advertise. I can't count the amount of spam I get for sex sites, while the closest I've gotten to unsolicited pornographic junk mail was the ol' Victoria's Secret catalog (and even then I think it was addressed to the former occupant).

    So, even though junk mail may kill the rain forests and is aided by the USPS itself, I still find it infinitely better than the spam that even now flods my e-mail boxes.
  • The internet is doing it, not Anthrax. Considering that lots of people still do have access to e-mail, regular mail will not end any time soon.

    Furthermore; there will always be a need for regular mail for packages, and larger items and some secure communication.
  • Anthrax is hard to come by, and easy to treat. Small penalty for using the postal service.

    Carnivore, hackers, and new govermental controls (passed only this last week by Senate and House) are going to happen much much much more often, and there's no way to "treat" it.

    Plus, unlike Anthrax, you have no idea you've been violated using e-mail. At least when you develop a rash, you know something isn't the way it should be.
  • This anthrax thing is way overblown. One person is dead, and they were quite old and thus more vulnerable to infection. Anthrax is not contagious. It's treatable if diagnosed early. This is way down in the noise compared to auto accidents, AIDS, etc.
  • by hacker ( 14635 ) <hacker@gnu-designs.com> on Sunday October 14, 2001 @01:07AM (#2426111)
    Please be aware that testing positive to exposure to Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) does not mean that you have Anthrax. Testing positive means that your body tests positive for the presence of antibodies that are used to fight this particular bacteria. It does not mean you have the spores on your skin (cutaneous), in your lungs (pulmonary), or in your gastrointestinal tract (GI).

    There is one case of an Anthrax infection that has been reported so far. One case, and that person has died. That particular case involved a non-GMO (Generically Modificed Organism) version of the Anthrax bacterium. The other cases are a completely different variety of the same bacterium (cutaneous). The one in Florida may very well be a completely natural infection which occured. Yes, there has not been a single case reported in the U.S. of an Anthrax infection in 25 years, and within one week, there are over 7 cases on the books, so you can guarantee that it's intentional, but do not continue to spread the FUD without some knowledge behind you.

    The others may not be, but nobody else has been infected with Anthrax to date except this Florida case. The other people you are hearing about have only tested positive for the antibodies which the body produces naturally to fight off the presence of Anthrax.

    There's too much FUD in the news right now.

    Lastly... there's an interesting quote from al-Queda spokesman Suleiman Abu-Gheith today saying:

    "...Muslims in the United States and Great Britain should not fly or live in high buildings..."
    This is far from over. Please feel free to print and post this mail warning [fbi.gov] in high-traffic mail areas within your business if you believe you may be in one of the "Icons Of America" that these letters seem to be hitting.
  • by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) <(slashdot) (at) (deforest.org)> on Sunday October 14, 2001 @01:09AM (#2426115)
    Irradiation of hand-written mail would sterilize anything passing through the irradiator and leave no radioactive residue. It would mean an end to sending live things (I've traded sourdough via email) and radiation sensitive items like electronic parts or film would have to be marked specially or sent another way -- but routine irradiation would make it much, much harder to sneak live anything into someone's mail.
  • by jmorse ( 90107 ) <joe_w_morse@nosp ... m ['AHO' in gap]> on Sunday October 14, 2001 @02:37AM (#2426251) Homepage Journal

    ...because now he can use his new super powers to deploy carnivore to your ISP (without a warrant, by the way) and spy on *all* your correspondence.

    This terrorist hysteria is far too convenient for the reactionary elements of our country. I smell a rat.

  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Sunday October 14, 2001 @05:23AM (#2426450) Homepage Journal
    I thought email was the primary means of written communication nowadays. Snail mail is of course still used for business letters, especially form letters, contracts, junk mail, etc. Email is the preferred medium for just about everything else though. Why would anyone want to send a paper letter to someone when they didn't have to? If you ask me, email ranks up there with the invention of the radio, television, telephone, and written language itself.
  • ...encryption technology. Reliable. Without backdoors.

    - Because legally binding digital signatures are the only way to shift much snailmail to email.
    - Because strong encryption is the only way to achieve anything like the same level of expected privacy

    Oh, hang on - the USA was about to outlaw encryption, wasn't it? Never mind, better stick to snail mail.

Last yeer I kudn't spel Engineer. Now I are won.