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
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).”

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