Microsoft Sues Spammers, Details Tactics

Not to be left out of lawsuits being launched by rivals AOL and Amazon, Microsoft has announced that after a six-month investigation and collaboration with New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, it has filed parallel lawsuits against a New York spamming ring accused of sending billions of “illegal and deceptive e-mail messages.”

Microsoft and Spitzer said they are suing Synergy6 and Scott Richter, who has been dubbed the world’s third largest spammer by Microsoft and the attorney general accused Richter, of New York, and associates in Washington, Texas and New York of seven illegal spam campaigns in violation of consumer protection statutes.

In addition, Microsoft filed five separate suits against other spammers “who allegedly used the same transmission path in New York that originally led investigators to Richter and the spam network,” Microsoft said in a statement. Industry analyst Joyce Graff told TechNewsWorld that companies such as Microsoft, AOL and Amazon have little choice but to sue spammers because junk e-mail is hurting the bottom line.

“They have to because it’s costing them big money,” Graff said. “There are serious money losses being forced upon these big vendors, and it’s on those grounds that they’re going after [spammers]. It’s beyond an annoyance.”

Hot on the Spam Trail

Microsoft accused Richter and other spammers named in the suit of common spam techniques that include forged sender names, false subject lines, fake server names, inaccurate and misrepresented sender addresses and obscured transmission paths.

“The lawsuits charge Richter and his accomplices with responsibility for sending illegal spam through 514 compromised IP addresses in 35 countries spanning six continents,” Microsoft said in a statement.

Graff said she believes the suits, other high-profile busts and increasingly punitive laws against sending spoofed or unidentifiable spam will have a deterrent effect.

“It is a stretch, though,” she added, referring to international culprits and disparities among state and federal law. “Don’t forget, this is an illicit activity like prostitution or drugs.”

The Few, Productive Spam Kings

According to one recent industry estimate, fewer than 200 people are responsible for more than 90 percent of the spam sent across the world.

Gartner research director Maurene Caplan Grey told TechNewsWorld that there are a tremendous number of spammers who do not qualify as spam kings. Still, the most prolific spammers are typically paid a percentage of product sales or a flat fee for sending millions of messages at a time, Grey said.

Earlier this month, authorities in Virginia made the nation’s first felony arrests for spam, charging spam king Jeremy Jaynes, 29, and Richard Rutowski with sending e-mail with falsified transmission or routing information. The two alleged coconspirators face 20 years in prison and as much as US$10,000 in fines, Virginia Attorney General’s office spokesperson Carrie Cantrell told TechNewsWorld.

Along the Supply Chain

Gartner’s Caplan Grey noted that the spammer is not the only entity that benefits from the flow of spam, which ranges from insurance solicitations to pornography ads to moneymaking scams. Others profiting from the unsolicited e-mail include providers of e-mail addresses, suppliers of spamming software and offshore ISPs, she said.

The other benefactors are legitimate spam-filtering software vendors, which are striving to keep up with their spamming counterparts by introducing improved scanning tools and automation, according to Grey.

She said that despite the departure of one or two spam kings, there are likely others waiting to step in, take their place and maintain the deluge of spam.

Unfazed, Undeterred

Despite being named in the suit by a powerful company and aggressive state attorney general, Richter, 32, was reportedly unfazed, telling a Denver Post columnist that the move was a PR stunt on Microsoft’s part.

Richter, who claimed his e-mail marketing does not use deceptive tactics and is only sent to those who opt for it, indicated he might file a countersuit.

Graff said the fight over spam is likely to escalate to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine who regulates unsolicited e-mail. However, the analyst indicated the tide of spam likely will keep coming in the meantime.

“People will think twice, but as long as it’s lucrative, people will continue to do it despite the threat,” Graff said.

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