Spoutin' Off: One of the worst spammers arrested


There are a couple of significant developments in the ongoing epic battle against the purveyors of spam and other malware, and those of us forced to deal with the effluent they create.

First off, a man identified as one on the 10 worst spammers in the world has been arrested.

According to the Associated Press, a federal grand jury has indicted 27-year-old Robert Soloway, charging him with 35 counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, e-mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Soloway has pleaded not guilty.

There are few words to describe just how pernicious Soloway was in his zeal to spread spam. Through his marketing firm, Newport Internet Marketing Company, he’s alleged to have used malicious code to infect others computers. The code would then turn these computers into e-mail zombies, spitting out millions of pieces of spam using false identities.

Soloway is said to have continued this practice even after plaintiffs, including Microsoft, had been awarded millions of dollars in judgements against him. In fact, in a letter posted online after the Microsoft judgement, Soloway openly bragged about his lack of intention to pay a penny of the judgement, and in a stunningly sociopathic manner, mocked every attempt to bring his illegal activities under any sort of control.

Our friends at Spamhaus (www.spamhaus.org) have been following Soloway’s activities for many years, and have a ton of documented information about him on their Web site, including the entire text of the above-mentioned letter.

What’s different this time is that federal prosecutors took a novel approach to charging Soloway, focusing on his hijacking of other people’s Internet domain names as a form of identity theft.

The very first column I wrote in 2005 was about how one of my clients’ domain names had been hijacked in just such a manner, and was subsequently being used as the ‘sender’ in thousands (if not more) pieces of spam. It was infuriating and embarrassing.

I don’t know if the perpetrator in my case was Soloway, but the volume of spam created through his activities is so great that federal authorities said Soloway’s arrest could, in and of itself, lead computer users across the Web to notice a decrease in the amount of junk e-mail they receive.

With experts estimating that as much as 90 percent of e-mail is spam, that’s pretty significant. So, props to the federal prosecutors for getting this bottom-feeding scum off the street, and more importantly, off the Web. But what does this mean in terms of the big picture? Sadly, probably not much. You see, for whatever reason, politicians have always been reluctant to enact laws that would curb the spread of malware. The excuse I’ve heard most frequently for this inaction is that they’re concerned about being perceived as somehow restricting commerce as defined by direct marketers.

Well, what about the massive amounts of time and money being spent everyday to filter out this detritus?

For example, in the case of Soloway, one victim cited was the Santa Barbara County, Calif., Department of Social Services.

They said they were spending $1,000 a week to fight the spam they were receiving. Other businesses and individuals complained of having their reputations damaged when it appeared spam was originating from their computers (just like with my client).

Doesn’t that qualify as a restriction of commerce? What about the massive amounts of bandwidth being appropriated to send this stuff out? How about the damage to infrastructure caused by the viruses, worms and bots, which are often attached to these e-mails?

This brings us to the other component of this story, which indicates that at least one or two of the political types may finally be figuring out that this could be a winning issue for them.

A bill called the “Internet Spyware Prevention Act”, or I-Spy for short, made it through the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago.

If it makes it through the Senate (where it faces a stiff fight), and gets signed by the President, the ensuing law would “punish anyone who sneaks code onto computers without authorization in an attempt to ‘impair’ the security protections on a machine, transmit personal information about the machine’s user or commit other federal crimes.”

There’s also a competing bill, called the “Spy Act,” which is even tougher, and which I personally support, but is opposed by the tech industry because it places restrictions on the use of such potential spyware as cookies and Web beacons (which I’ve also previously written about) – data-gathering tools utilized on many, if not most Web sites.

As someone who has no confidence in politicians to do the right thing, I’m pessimistic that these proposed bills will become laws. Direct marketing associations are huge contributors to political coffers. But one can always dream…

Recent polling indicates that the general public really doesn’t care about the issue of spam and malware, but I do, and want to thank the few people in a position of authority who are trying to do something about it.

As for Mr. Soloway – good riddance to bad rubbish
[Submitted by Imran Asad]

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