RealTime IT News

City Tells ORBZ Owner...Oops

Belatedly convinced he's not just another hacker, Battle Creek, Mich., officials are withdrawing an injunction and dropping charges against ORBZ blacklist owner Ian Gulliver, city officials announced Thursday evening.

The news comes roughly 30 hours after he shut down the controversial service to avoid handing documents over to the Michigan district court, sparking widespread outrage from anti-spam organizations and Internet service providers (ISPs) alike.

Michelle Reen, the city's assistant to the city manager, issued a quasi-apology to those affected by the shutdown, mainly ISPs who's servers were nearly swamped as the machines tried to keep up with the influx of spam.

In the statement, she said the city's police force takes potential hacking abuses seriously.

"Our investigation and conversations with Mr. Gulliver's attorney have led us to believe that there was no criminal intent to cause the City harm," she said. "However, there was no way for us to know when we received the hit that this was not intended as a malicious prank."

Battle Creek's information systems expert and a local detective were responsible for convincing a judge to issue a search warrant and seek to seize Gulliver's ORBZ documentation.

"The detective had no reason not to believe he was pursuing a hacker when he issued a search warrant," Reen said. "The purpose of the search warrant was to determine the identity of the person who sent the email that caused our system to fail so we could then determine whether further investigation would be necessary."

Rather than having the only blacklist files in the hand's of local government, Gulliver disseminated them to several foreign individuals who would presumably continue in the tradition of the blacklist project started with ORBS years ago, according to one source familiar with situation.

It might be a case of too little, too late for users of the incredibly effective ORBZ blacklist, which blocks IP addresses of know servers with open relays -- a frequent target of spammers and unscrupulous unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) mass-marketers.

Forbes Mercy, owner of NWInfo.Net, an ISP in Yakima, Wash., was one of many people around the U.S. who fired off an angry letter to city officials for shutting down a service that kept spam, porn and e-mail viruses off computers.

The fact the courts are dropping charges means nothing, he said in his e-mail addressed to the city's mayor, attorney general and IT specialist, if it means ORBZ doesn't come back online.

"In one step your city has grid-locked the entire Internet, as all the servers that subscribe to ORBZ are now rejecting nearly all mail," he said in an e-mail sent Thursday evening. "...your city IT person can brag that he gave you such bad advise that he caused you both negative national attention for his incompetence in not recognizing the good service ORBZ gave to the rest of the world."

"As a city manager you can now say "I upheld the rights of citizens to be excessively spammed and receive pornography," he added.

E-mail discussion list forums (ironically enough, forums that have been mistaken for spammers in the past themselves and blacklisted) had little good to say about the city's handling of the ORBZ situation.

"How hard is it to call the guy and question him before forcing him to shut down?" one member queried. "It could've been blown over with a 20 minute phone call, now it's probably too late (for ORBZ)."