Redmond Aims, Fires at Spammers’ Accomplices

Microsoft fired another shot in its war on spam with a lawsuit against a Web hosting company that claimed to help spammers avoid being shut down.

The suit is against a Web hosting company operating under the domain name “Our servers are all China-based to ensure no problems arise from complaints generated by e-mail you send,” the company’s Web site said. It also claimed it was “bulletproof” and immune from threats of being shut down and offered support services for spamming activity. It also said it would not allow any anti-Chinese Government or scam Web sites.

Microsoft said the suit against the hosting company was a first under Washington’s Electronic Mail Act, which makes it illegal to assist in the transmission of spam.

The Microsoft lawsuit also alleged that the Website’s owner, Levon Gillespie, is in violation of the federal CAN-SPAM, the federal Lanham Act protecting trademarks (for allegedly forging Hotmail addresses), the Washington Consumer Protection Act and Washington’s Commercial Electronic Mail Act. In addition to Gillespie, the suit also named John Does 1 to 50, which it called customers of the hosting site.

Aaron Kornblum, Internet safety enforcement attorney for Microsoft, said the suit calls out violations of the federal CAN-SPAM act for sending illegal e-mail as well as violating the Washington Act. This, he added, “is the most exciting part of this particular lawsuit, which is accusing Mr. Gillespie and his company of assisting in the transmission of spam. That’s never been done before as far as we know under the Washington Statue or anywhere.”

The Washington statue, which was passed on June 11, 1998 essentially allows lawsuits against people who assist in the transmission of spam.

Kornblum told the intention of the Microsoft action is not just to deter these particular individual but to change the playing field for spammers in general.

“The bottom line is that we’re trying to make spamming more expensive and to change the economics of spamming,” Kornblum explained. “We hope to impose penalties that deter cyber-criminals and would be spammers from engaging in this activity. We hope to have them think twice before reaching for the send button, before they hire someone to send spam or host a Web site specifically catered to spammers.”

Repeated attempts to contact the site via its contact mechanism did not result in any replies.

Although the actual remedies that may be awarded under the CAN-SPAM act as well as the Washington statute vary, Kornblum said they do impose penalties.

“Legal consequences like injunctions forbidding this type of conduct in the future, the stigma of being called out in the community as a spammer, as a cyber-criminal,” Kornblum said. “That’s the cost we’re trying to impose and that’s the change we’re trying to make.”

The latest lawsuit, which is one among nine the company filed this month, is part of its broader effort to fight spam that so far has tallied about 100 lawsuits against spammers, 70 in the U.S. alone.

“We’re looking at spam from lots of sources every day,” Kornblum said. “We have accounts set up to receive spam from Hotmail, we receive customer complaints regarding spam. We receive spam here at Microsoft. We’re always looking through data for potential targets and interesting trends and new opportunities that we might take with our enforcement program.”

The federal government has been ramping up its stance against spammers as well. Just last month the U.S. Department of Justice announced a number of arrests and indictments against spammers as part of the joint FBI/Direct Marketing Association Operation Slam Spam.

The problem of spam has grown to the point where it consistently shows up in various studies as greater than 50 percent of all e-mail traffic. Probe Network estimates that it now consists of 64 percent, while Postini has measured the monthly volume at 78 percent.

News Around the Web