Murder is the worst crime an individual can commit, and mass-murder is the worst crime compounded. Murder, by one definition, robs people of time they would ordinarily spend living.
By that measure, Robert Alan Soloway has murdered all of us a little bit, and deserves capital punishment for all the cumulative time he has wasted — enough to live hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
If you’re not familiar with Soloway, he is a 27-year-old Seattle resident who has been identified as the worst spammer operating in the U.S. He was also charged with identity theft, fraud and money laundering when he was apprehended last week, but those crimes pale next to damage wrought by his spam empire.
Through his company, Newport Internet Marketing, he has sent billions, perhaps trillions, of unsolicited e-mails — the exact number is difficult to gauge — and was named the “worst of the worst” by Internet watchdogs at Spamhaus (www.spamhaus.org). Since he was arrested and had his servers shut down, worldwide spam has dropped by eight per cent, or six billion messages a day.
There are rules that allow companies to legally send spam in the U.S., including giving the people the opportunity to opt out of future mailings. Soloway allegedly ignored those rules, while making false claims about the products and services his company offers — such as an opt-out clause for customers and a money back guarantee. That gave his customers the false impression that they were marketing through legitimate channels.
As well, investigators found that Soloway had commandeered various zombie servers — basically hacked computers — to send spam e-mails on his behalf. Not only did that make it difficult to track e-mails back to Soloway’s company, it also resulted in several legitimate servers being blocked and blacklisted for sending spam.
This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of complaints have been lodged about Soloway’s company to the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and Washington State attorney general’s office.
Soloway faces up to 75 years in jail for his offences, instead of the electric chair. Even with time off for good behaviour he’s going to be very, very old when he gets out of prison if all of the charges stick.
Putting Soloway behind bars will send a strong message to other U.S.-based spammers, but will do little to halt the international spam situation. Still, it’s an encouraging step in the right direction, given that most technological solutions to the spam issue are circumvented almost as quickly as they can be released.
Of the Top-10 offenders identified by Spamhaus, one lives in California and one in Australia. The others are harder to reach in Russia, the Ukraine, Hong Kong and Israel. Making spam a standard international offence and getting Interpol involved will make it possible to arrest all the other offenders identified. With 186 members, Interpol’s involvement will also make it impossible for spammers outside Interpols’ boundaries to travel anywhere, while giving countries the ability to shut down Internet transmissions to those few remaining countries. For example, the U.S. was perfectly capable of shutting down online gambling sites in places like Bermuda, simply by blocking those connections.
By the way, Spamhaus is doing an awesome job fighting spam from its U.K. headquarters, tracking spam and spammers and drawing attention to their daily activities. They are almost entirely financed by their own anti-spam services, targeted to Internet Service Providers and large companies, but seem content to be putting themselves out of business.
By the way, those “remove from list” links that legal spam e-mails are required to carry? Never, ever click them, no matter how annoyed you become. According to Spamhaus the number of spam e-mails you receive will increase, now that the spammers know that the e-mail address is legitimate, functioning and checked periodically.
Says Spamhaus, “By sending back a ‘remove me’ opt-out request you are confirming to the spammer that your address is live, you are confirming that your ISP doesn’t use spam filters, you are confirming that you actually open and read spams, and that you follow the spammer’s instructions such as ‘click this to be removed.’ You are the perfect candidate for more spam.”
Without the “remove” option, the best most of us can do is to root for Spamhaus and hope Soloway is found guilty.
Website of the Week
C/Net.com ( www.cnet.com ) is currently hosting a vote for the best 100 Webware programs out there. Webware is basically Web 2.0 stuff, referring to online applications like Google Spreadsheets, Xdrive ( www.xdrive.com ), Skype ( www.skype.com ), and Blogspot ( www.blogspot.com ), as well as various mapping programs, Internet radio, photo sharing and archiving services, and community services like Facebook ( www.facebook.com ) and MySpace (www.myspace.com). There are literally hundreds of web applications out there, most of them are free or cheap, and all can be extremely useful. Visit www.webware.com to vote, and see what applications are getting the most votes.