Spamhaus Sets Up Shop in China

After some friendly negotiations with local authorities, Spamhaus, a volunteer organization fighting the proliferation of unsolicited e-mail across the globe, has established operations in China with the launch of a new Web site, spamhaus.cn.

The move is seen by some as another positive sign that the Asian giant is waking up to its spam problem. “Things are changing,” Neil Schwartzman, chairman of the board of the Canadian Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) in Montreal, told TechNewsWorld. “The Chinese government seems to be making some noises that they want to do the right thing.”

China has become a ripe spot for hosting servers spewing spam — most of it sent through China from other countries.

Spam Shill

According to a recent survey by Commtouch, a Mountain View, California-based maker of antispam software, in April alone, 71 percent of all URLs that appeared in spam e-mails were linked to Chinese Web hosts, with the United States a distant second at 22 percent.

However, Commtouch noted, a large portion of the spam being sent from Chinese servers originated in other nations, and most of it — 60.5 percent — came from the United States.

“The fact that 71 percent of spammers’ Web sites are hosted in China and 60.5 percent of the global spam is sent from the United States demonstrates that spam is a global problem,” Commtouch said in a statement.

Cultural Barriers

“International cooperation is really important,” said Ed Cartwright, director of communications at the Canadian Marketing Association in Toronto, which was recently appointed to that country’s national antispam task force.

“Technology is part of the answer, as are laws and what have you,” he told TechNewsWorld. “But because it’s an issue being treated on a global scale, no nation can do it alone.”

Antispam efforts by the international community in China have been hampered by several cultural factors, maintained CAUCE’s Schwartzman.

For example, language has been a hang-up. “We’ll send complaints to Chinese system administrators who, having a poor grasp on the English language, wouldn’t understand them,” Schwartzman said.

Despite its increased exposure to other nations over recent decades, China remains an insular country, he added. “Complaining to a Chinese person about another Chinese person will almost always get their hackles up and make them very defensive,” he said.

That situation hasn’t been helped by the attitude of some complainers, Schwartzman admitted. “Some of them are rude and obnoxious and their complaints are full of swear words,” he said. “Even if I were an English-speaking person, I wouldn’t react too well to them, either. It’s a pretty ignorant way to build alliances with people.”

Kickbacks

Then there’s the problem of kickbacks. “It’s an ingrained part of doing business in China,” Schwartzman noted. Antispam laws exist in China, but ISPs — especially small ones — often ignore those laws when an offshore spammer offers them US$100 per week to do something, such as host a Web site, that they’re accustomed to getting $100 per month for doing.

Schwartzman explained that China’s telecommunications system is decentralized in the provinces. As a result, what you have is a bureaucratic hierarchy that makes it easy to go down to the regional or city level and bribe somebody without getting any higher-ups to notice, he maintained.

Hard-Core Criminals

As the latest Spamhaus foray indicates, conditions are rapidly changing for spammers, not only in China but in the world at large. Schwartzman lauded efforts by the world’s largest spam factory — the United States — to aggressively seek out and destroy mail rats.

“The FTC [Federal Trade Commission] is certainly putting the CAN-Spam Act to a lot better use than a lot of us thought that they would or could,” he said.

The FBI also has targeted 100 spammers that it intends to prosecute, he added.

“If I were a spammer, I’d seriously be considering a career change at this point,” he said. “The people that are going to be spammers at the end of this year are going to be hard-core criminals or people on their way to jail to be introduced to some hard-core criminals.”

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