Sniffing the mail

Eirikur Hallgrimsson
Mon, 22 Oct 2001 17:27:05 -0400

	The post office problems are going to be huge.  Not just in 
terms of the immediate danger to a lot of people, but in terms of 
long-term changes.   I can imagine various ways of dealing with the 
problem of contaminated mail in government offices, but really, the 
only way to deal with it in terms of protecting individuals and 
businesses, is going to be to do it in the post office.   This will 
be very expensive and time-consuming, delaying mail significantly. 
Machines will have to be installed to sniff at each envelope and 
package.   Want to shut down a major post office mail sorting 
facility for a while?  Just smear something on an envelope.  I can't 
see how automated sniffers can prevent the expensive and 
time-consuming human response that's required when one goes off. 
And, the sniffers need to be updated for each new threat substance. 
Electronic sniffers are really new and I don't know if one could make 
one for the present problem.  You'd need one of those bio-chip arrays 
that could recognize the spore form.
Just think of the expense.  It's going to be amazing.

	Then, when you've recognized a bad piece of mail, and 
verified that it hasn't contaminated other mail (or you have 
decontaminated the other mail), you really want an audit trail of 
where it came from, given that the return address is optional.   Wow, 
imagine a world where you have to show ID to mail a letter.  Bye, bye 
streetcorner mailboxes.

	I was writing the above to a friend when I realized I had not 
heard the FoRK community brainstorming on dealing with infrastructure 
attacks through systems like the mail.