Business Technology: It's Time To Take Spam Fight To The Bad Guys - InformationWeek
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Bob Evans
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Business Technology: It's Time To Take Spam Fight To The Bad Guys

AOL says it blocks 1.5 billion spam messages per day. That's 1,500,000,000 pieces of electronic junk every 24 hours. Kudos for AOL for that accomplishment, but that staggering number-60 million per hour-is probably dwarfed by the figure for the number of spam messages that elude detection and foul hundreds of millions of E-mail in-boxes.

There's more bad news: In one month this summer, 100,000 complaints were filed against a spam operation that used AOL's network and was run by two North Carolina men, according to an Associated Press story last week, "Two Spammers Face Felony Charges In Virginia.". But here's some related good news: those two spammers now face felony indictments in Virginia since Virginia enacted rigorous anti-spam legislation July 1.According to the AP story, this is the first time spammers have faced felony charges.

One of the two men, Jeremy Jaynes, is in custody and is awaiting extradition to Virginia, the story said, while the other man, Richard Rutowski, "... was expected to surrender to authorities under terms being worked out through his attorney." One can only wonder: what terms? He faces felony charges, and he'll be tried for them-what "terms" can he possibly be trying to negotiate? Or perhaps that's all code for "I will rat out my partner and tell you in great detail about everything he ever did and I'll tell you where all the money's hidden if you'll just go a bit easier on me."

Other Voices
Under the Bioterrorism Act, the U.S. requires 400,000 food-handling companies-at home and abroad-to register all products with the Food and Drug Administration. While the new regulations affect both imported and domestic food, foreign exporters fear they will be hit the hardest. Many say it could drive them out of the U.S. market, although some hope the new law will expedite trade.
-- Associated Press, Dec. 11

The money, you say? Well, that's a huge new fang in the impressive set of teeth built into Virginia's anti-spam legislation: Convictions can lead not only to prison time but also to confiscation of money generated from the illegal activities, the AP story said. And according to Virginia's attorney general, the spamming enterprise run by Jaynes and Rutowski was "very profitable."

Meanwhile, Yahoo has developed a new set of tools to strengthen its anti-spam efforts, including the deployment of open-source authentication software to verify the Internet domain from which messages originate. In a story posted late last week on by our own Thomas Claburn, "Yahoo Takes Steps To Stop Spam," we note that Yahoo is the largest commercial provider of E-mail in the U.S., according to Nielsen/NetRating's October figures, and Yahoo VP Brad Garlinghouse says it's reasonable to think that 40% to 60% of that E-mail traffic is spam. Claburn's story emphasized that the spam contagion has escalated far beyond the point of being either just annoying or just an inevitable financial cost that must be borne: But the damage goes beyond dollars. "The cost to the spoofed companies is staggering," Tom Gillis, senior VP of marketing for anti-spam vendor IronPort Systems Inc., wrote in an E-mail message, "not only in terms of the cost to maintain an infrastructure capable of handling the inevitable influx of mail bouncing from bad addresses, but also the cost to their customer-service departments for handling the complaints, and the immeasurable damage to their reputations as trustworthy companies."

So we have some options: first, the power of numbers. Look at the Virginia case above--100,000 complaints against the same two polluters in a single month couldn't be ignored, and now they face felony charges. This is a huge victory--let's replicate it! Don't just get ticked off about spammers--report them as vigorously as possible to law-enforcement authorities, and demand action.

Second, the power of thoughtful, effective legislation with real teeth in it: Claburn's story also reports that the House of Representatives last week passed the first federal bill to outlaw spam, and that it now awaits President Bush's signature. Let the White House know your views on this--tell them how much time, money, and goodwill your company is having to waste in combating the malicious efforts of spammers. Let them know this garbage is stunting your productivity and forcing you to spend precious dollars on antipollution measures rather than new hires and innovation, and that you are demanding action.

Spammers need to modify their behavior, but they won't do it unless they're forced. It looks like some serious behavior-modification disincentives are taking shape, but those initiatives will fail unless all of us assume some personal responsibility in this battle. It's time to take the fight to the bad guys.

Bob Evans,
Editor in Chief

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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