RealTime IT News

Usenet Death Penalty Called for @Home

Everybody loves broadband -- including, apparently, spammers.

The @Home cable modem service in particular has become a haven for junk advertisers, according to opponents of unsolicited commercial messages in newsgroups and e-mail. Not only do spammers appreciate the speed at which the @Home connection can upload their junk mailings. They especially like taking advantage of a characteristic of the @Home network known as proxies, which enable spammers essentially to steal the Internet protocol address of another user and thus avoid detection.

The situation has gotten so bad that newsgroup administrators have called for a Usenet Death Penalty against @Home if the company doesn't correct the problem by the end of Jan. 18. Once a UDP is in effect, participating newsgroup administrators will cancel any newsgroup messages coming from @Home users.

"It will be felt around the world," said David Ritz, a self-appointed newsgroup despammer and Internet user in Milwaukee, Wis., who's organizing the @Home UDP.

@Home officials were not immediately available.

Ritz says the decision to issue the block is a desperate but necessary measure because @Home has refused to deal with the problem, or even communicate about it. Should the UDP go into effect next week, tens of thousands of news servers will process the cancels, and @Home users posts will not appear on these machines. EarthLink Network Inc. and America Online Inc. do not honor cancel requests, so their newsgroup servers will show postings from @Home users.

In the past, UDPs have effectively forced big providers such as Compuserve and UUnet to change their practices to avoid the block. But in the case of @Home, Ritz and other advocates of the Usenet Death Penalty acknowledge that closing the proxy loophole against spammers may be expensive to @Home and require hardware upgrades.

One person feeling no mercy is Scott Greczkowski, founder and moderator of the Connecticut @Home Users Group. He said even though it will mean a loss of service to users, he's telling the group's 250 members to support the UDP as a way to coax @Home to be a better Internet citizen.

"They warned them and warned them, but @Home ignored the messages like they didn't even come in. That's the whole problem here," said Greczkowski. If they lose full newsgroup service as a result of the UDP service, he said @Home subscribers should demand refunds from their cable providers, although he admits that cable companies aren't to blame.

"They're going to look like the bad guys and accept all the complaint calls, but their hands are tied in this."

Ritz concedes two Canadian providers who offer @Home to their subscribers, Rogers and Shaw, are generally quite responsive to complaints about newsgroup spam, but they too will come under the @Home UDP.

The most recent UDP was instituted in December against the two biggest ISPs in India, VSNL and SILNET. A user there was disrupting newsgroups around the world by issuing what are called "rogue" cancels. The ISPs quickly responded to the UDP by blocking the appropriate port on their newsgroup servers, and the UDP was lifted.