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Spam Wars Update: Can Spam
- While we all took great joy in the Loudoun County grand jury (Virginia) indictment of the eighth-worst spam distributor in the world, many continued to sweat the signing of the diluted "Can Spam Act" pending in Congress. This too passed when George W. signed the new bill into Federal law last week. But here's the rest of the story...
- Will it affect state laws?
With all the protests about the Feds overshadowing state law, UGN's anti-spam activist Fred Showker chased the story to see if state laws would really be affected as the rumors proclaimed. The trail led from Senator George Allen's office (VA), across Capital Hill to contacts in Congressman Goodlatte's office (VA), and finally to Virginia's Attorney General's office. The good news is, the specific verbiage of the new 'Can Spam' Act clearly provides for action on the part of State law enforcement. The New York Times reported Wednesday that even in advance of "Can Spam", which goes into effect on Jan. 1, state and federal authorities have already started to move more aggressively against some of the most prominent spam tycoons.
The bad news is apprehension and prosecution of spam criminals is both expensive and time consuming -- something the spammers know and use to their advantage. So there will be no immediate ebb in the onslaught of spam.
- In Virginia
In a conversation with the Virginia AG's office, Lisa Hicks-Thomas, director of Virginia's computer crime unit, assured us that the Can Spam Act should actually strengthen America's war against spam. The real encouraging news from Thomas was that numerous other cases are in the works. With this first case behind them, the AG's office should be able to shorten the time lines on future cases despite insufficient funding and manpower. For criminal action, the case must go through the AG's office and be backed by an ISP with sufficient data to fill all the criteria for an indictment.
- Microsoft turns up the heat
On Wednesday, the anti-spam channels were rumbling with the news of Microsoft's entry into the legal arena against spam.
Following a six-month investigation by the New York state attorney general's Office, Microsoft Corp. filed lawsuits against an alleged e-mail spam ring spanning from Texas to Colorado to New York. This suit attacks one of the spam industry "big boys" Scott Richter of OptInRealBig.com which professes to send as many as 250 million email messages a day. (Richter was an arrogant and outspoken advocate for spam at the FTC's Washington D.C. Spam Forums in May.)
Suits in both New York State and Washington State by the Microsoft/NY alliance charges the spam ring with spamming techniques such as forged sender names, false subject lines, fake server names, inaccurate and misrepresented sender addresses, and obscured transmission paths. Others named in the suit are Synergy6 in New York and Denny Cole and Delta7 Communications both in Texas.
New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused the defendants of violating consumer protection statutes in New York, describing the defendants as a "multifarious" spam crime ring that sends "consumers more than one billion junk emails each week." Richter has been dubbed the world's third-largest spammer by the consumer advocacy and anti-spam group "Register of Known Spam Operations" or RKSO.
- Microsoft traps
Microsoft created 8,799 Hotmail email "spam traps," to identify the spammers, then worked with NY AG's office to identify "40,000 instances of fraud," which, according to Spitzer, represented a "miniscule portion of the millions of fraudulent emails" respondents were sent overall. Such violations of New York state laws carry civil penalties of $500 per "fraudulent and deceptive act." NY AG's office will seek $20 million in damages from Mr. Richter and the other defendants.
- Get involved
To the anti-spam community this is another bright banner to wave in the ever escalating war against spam. To computer users in states with strict anti-spam laws it's a call to arms for mobilization against spam.
In Virginia, computer users can aid in hastening cases to prosecution by assisting with the advance research which slows the process. While it's primarily up to the ISPs to bring forth cases, individuals are urged to bring researched spam cases directly to the ISP or AG office's attention. This can greatly facilitate action by law enforcement officials. Computer users who are experienced in email, and spam tracking can help move law enforcement forward by contacting their local AG's office.
User groups in Virginia should contact Fred Showker at UGN, or call: 540-433-8402.
- Sources of full information:
The Business Review (Albany, NY) - December 19, 2003
MediaPost's MediaDailyNews Friday, Dec 19, 2003, American City Business Journals Inc
The New York Times, December 18, 2003
- Be vigilant.
To learn more, visit the Web site at www.ftc.gov/infosecurity
or call toll free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
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