I built a fifteen-year career out of analyzing the spam in my own inbox.
First I learned how to real mail headers. Then, I learned how to use the Unix dig command. Then I learned traceroute and WHOIS. I learned how to search online for postal addresses and identify the postal drop boxes used by spammers.
The more spam I got, the better my skills at analyzing it became. I learned about open mail relays and how to test for them by logging in directly on port 25 and issuing commands by hand.
I began to report the spam I was receiving.
The volume of spam grew.. I was reporting hundreds of spams a day, and having to pick and choose from a representative sample to do that. People began to notice
It was 1998.
In two years, I'd made enough of a name for myself as a diligent, thoughtful analyst, that Michael Rathbun, who at the time had gone to work for the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), under Paul Vixie, offered me a job, in his words "malleting spammers for fun and profit."
But for me, it was never about the spammers.
"They're all spammers," Paul Vixie said of the entire Internet, "Some of them just haven't spammed, yet."
Keeping that in mind, anyone could send spam, whether by accident, or intent. In fact, under Paul's criteria, during the years that I had run a small email newsletter with only 500 recipients, I too was a spammer. I was guilty of appallingly poor bounce management. I had no unsubscribe process. That no one ever complained, and my newsletter even got some very nice press, wasn't the point. Paul was right. ANYONE could, and would send spam.
So fighting spam isn't about the spammer. Who the spammer is, and what their motivations are, are only important as far as they help inform the ways to make the spam stop.
And that last bit is what counts. Making spam stop. Everything else is a sideshow.