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June 1, 2004

Bicy Wifi Shanghai

Posted 22 hours, 54 minutes ago on June 1, 2004
Here's an interesting twist on war-driving*: war cycling.

[*For those of you not familiar with the term, 'war-driving' refers to the act of driving around, wifi-enabled laptop in hand (or on the seat or lap next to you), and finding unsecured wireless access points through which you can send email - usually spam.]

Now cometh Yury Gitman, of the City of New York, with his "Magicbike" - the wifi-enabled bicycle. But this is not, a recent BBC news report tells us, just a nifty alternative to your favourite internet cafe. Oh no.

The Magicbike can, we are told, "fulfill an important function in bringing internet connectivity to areas ignored by the traditional telecommunications industry."

Like the section of sidewalk beneath the apartment containing that unsecured wireless access point.

But at least Gitman is aware of the issues, as BBC news goes on to explain that "Mr Gitman admits that borrowing bandwidth from nearby open networks is something of a legal grey area."

In the same way that stealing cable from your neighbour is something of a grey area.

Explained Gitman in the BBC article, "There is not a one world legal answer but it is arguable that it is sometimes illegal."

That, at least, is true. For certain values of "sometimes". Like, as in, almost always.

And you thought Gmail was a privacy nightmare!

Posted 1 day, 8 hours ago on June 1, 2004
If you are one of the legion who think that Gmail is a privacy nightmare, then just be glad that you don't live in Zimbabwe.

According to a report by BBC News, the government of Zimbabwe has introduced a proposal which would require Zimbabwean ISPs to report email which is deemed to be "offensive or dangerous".

In a country where it is illegal to "undermine the authority of the president", to "engender hostility" towards him, or to make abusive, obscene or false statements against him, this is concerning indeed.

According to the BBC report, "President Robert Mugabe has suggested the internet, [which is] widely developed in Zimbabwe, is a tool of colonialists," and last year he "described the internet as a tool used by "a few countries... in quest of global dominance and hegemony". "

Of course, it may be that Google is one of those countries but really, in the grand scheme of things, we have it pretty good here.



May 28, 2004

California Senate Sends Gmail a Message

Posted 5 days, 10 hours ago on May 28, 2004
The BBC reports today that the California Senate has passed SB 1822, aimed at limiting Google's ability to scan email coming in to the users of their Gmail system, and also limiting Google's ability to archive and sell the resulting information.

Now, Aunty is old enough to remember some real wholesale intrusions on privacy, and jaded enough to question anyone having obviously invasive powers, but there are a few things which occur to Aunty - maybe it's her doddering age, but:

1. Google is a business entity, not a government, for chrissakes. Business entities invade your privacy all the time, especially when you are availing yourself of their services - if you don't like it, don't sign up for their services. The reason that a private high school can perform a locker search, and a public school cannot, is because the public school is, arguably, a government entity. The reason that pretty much everyone and their dog now tell you, while you are on hold for 112 minutes when calling their customer service line, that "this call may be monitored for training purposes" but the nice men in the blue suits have to get a warrant to listen in on your conversations is because, again, the men in suits work for a government agency. The people who put you on hold do not. Deal with it.

2. Gmail is a voluntary service, and you'd have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to not know at this point, before signing up for their free services (and did Aunty mention that it's voluntary?), that they scan your email for content in order to serve up their Adsense ads with your email. ("Would you like spam with that?")

3. Google is doing nothing different in terms of scanning email content than any one of dozens of spam filtering companies do - for which their users often pay them handsomely, not slap them with restrictive legislation.

But, on the whole, it's a really good thing that Ms. Senator Figueroa is spearheading this new law, because goodness knows that in the U.S., and in California in particular, we wouldn't want to break with tradition and societal culture and..you know, make people be accountable and responsible for theier own decisions. Oh no.

May 25, 2004

Aunty Spam Exclusive: Interview with a Spammer - Aunty Gets Down and Dirty with Spam King Scott Richter

Posted 1 week ago on May 25, 2004
This is the first in a series of dialogues wiith self-proclaimed Spam King and Daily Show veteran, Scott Richter. Aunty has agreed to provide this venue to allow Mr. Richter to take and respond to questions from Aunty's readers. If you have questions or comments for Mr. Richter, please leave them as a comment to this article, and Mr. Richter will respond to them. Kissy, kissy - Aunty

Update: Scott Richter has responded to many questions and comments which Aunty's readers have posted for him. See the comments section at the end of this interview.

---

Aunty:   I'm sure it will come as no surprise when Aunty tells you that you aren't the most beloved email sender in the world, and are often called the "King of Spam", a name you've even joked about yourself.  Is your reputation as a "spammer" deserved?

Richter: I was looking to be part of royalty but did not expect to be the King of Spam. On the other hand we are a marketing company so we have to make do with what comes our way and run with it.

Aunty:  Ok, but are you really a spammer?  Do you deserve to be called the King of Spammers, one of the top spammers?  Is it a case of if you are going to do something, you might as well do it right?

Richter: No, based on CAN-SPAM in the U.S. I am not a spammer. The Spam King name is just a name given by the media. I soon will be the Anti-Spam King.

Many people have nick names, some relate to them more then others.

Aunty:   Recently you've said that you want to go straight, and to change your wicked spamming ways.  But you've also bragged about how much money you make from spam, so why should Aunty believe you?  Why should anyone believe you?

Richter: Actually I have not bragged, this is something reporters usually write about and misquote. I actually do not do what I do for the need of money. I just enjoy working and employing employees and building a business. I am like most people, and really enjoy a challenge. What many may find interesting is that I wanted to hang it up or move on many times, but the pressure from the anti-spammers is actually what keeps me motivated and in the game. It's like chess, no one wants to lose.

Aunty:  So, again, why should anyone believe you that you want to go straight and send only wanted, opted-in to email?   Tell us something which will convince us that you really want to go straight.

Richter: Actions speak louder then words. Any ISP who has worked with us and allowed us the chance to meet their guidelines can, I think, honestly say we have done a good job doing it.

Aunty:  Aunty has heard from more than a few sources that they have received spam from you as recently as this week.   Are you still sending spam?   And if so, why?

Richter: This is an interesting question. I think if the definition of "spam" is based on CAN SPAM, we are not sending spam. If "spam" is based on a third-party's statements based in another country outside the U.S. then some may call it spam.

Another issue people to not understand is that we host a large amount of clients on our network and most anti-spam fighters do not take the time to read past the IP space, and just find it easier to blame me for it.

However, by not complaining about an abuser on our network, because they either think its me or for whatever reason, we then do not have the chance to know and deal with it, which then actually can cause a large abuse issue to take place if we are not told about it.

Aunty:  So all of the email you send now complies with CAN-SPAM?

Richter: All of the email that we personally send has always complied with CAN SPAM to the best of my knowledge.

Aunty:  If you could sit down at a table with the heads of the top six ISPs in the United States, what would you want to say to them?

Richter: I would ask them to give me the opportunity that two of the six ISPs have given us to show that we can follow anyone's rules and work with them. All I ask is to be treated equally.

Aunty:  Are you saying that if an ISP lays down the rules for you, you will abide by them and that the only email you will send to that ISP is email which meets their criteria?

Richter: Correct. Different ISPs have different requirements on many things, all the way down to bounce handling. We have no issue meeting or exceeding any ISP's requirements of us.

Aunty:  Same question, but for the top six spam filters in the United States.

Richter: Probably thank a few of them for building Optinrealbig.com LLC to what it is today. If not for the Spamhaus yellow pages most would have never found us. You really cannot put a value on the advertising it does for us. It's sad but true in a way that Spamhaus works against itself as it advertises what ISPs to use, and who the top senders they list are, so most advertisers use it when deciding who they want to work with.

I would also ask that any filtering company judge us like they judge any other ISP. We face many of the same issues with hosted clients, and harassing us, our upstreams or people we work with is wrong. Besides, when was the last time the harassment really worked and put anyone out of business for good?

On the other hand if they were more civil and open minded instead of a few which are one-track minded, they probably could have made a difference on the net a long time ago and email wouldn't be where it is today.

Aunty:  You say that you would like to be judged like any other ISP, but you're not just an ISP.  You are also, by your own admission, a "high volume email deployer".   What would you say to the ISPs and spam filters which are blocking specifically the email which you, not your customers, send, or which you send for your customers?

Richter: That is their choice, all we can do is ask them to unblock us, and meet whatever they require of us to stay unblocked or whitelisted.

Aunty:  What do you think of anti-spammers?

Richter: I think some are super great people who truly want to make a difference and understand that no matter what you think of someone, if you give them a chance and work with them you can change them. Then others I think are so one-track minded that it's a shame they give the good ones such a bad image - all they do is complain and post to many newsgroups with no hope of ever making a difference. It's sad to put in so much time to something that you really don't effect. If they want the attention they should work with email houses to make a difference, and suggest ideas that are open-minded and which over time can work. Not "you're blocked until you die", that just wont solve anyone's issues.

Aunty:  Like what kind of ideas?  If you were going to consult to email houses and tell them what they need to do to clean up their act and get their mail delivered, what would you tell them to do?

Richter: I would tell them to work one on one with what ever ISPs are blocking them and to follow what ever requirements they have.

Aunty:  Who do you think is the biggest problem spammer out there today?

Richter: Hard to say, but from email I get it's who ever is joe jobbing us.

[Ed. note: A "joe job", in anti-spam parlance, is the act of sending spam and forging the "From:" information to make it appear that the spam is coming from someone else.]

Richter: I have taken a lot of blame for huge joe jobs against us. The good part is there are a few respected anti-spam fighters who have pointed this out to the others who were blaming me for it, and we are working to find out who is behind it and to seek legal action against them.

Aunty:  There's a kind of poetic irony to the King of Spam suing another spammer for sending spam which makes it look like the King of Spammers is spamming, isn't there?

Richter: No, I see it as one legit high volume sender going after one illegal unlegit email sender for damaging his reputation.

As to name names, its tough, I really do not know the workings of the really bad ones. I am under the impression that most of them are in Russia, from reading what people write about them.

Aunty:  Well, let me give you a name.  Ronnie Scelson told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee this week that he was trying to abide by CAN-SPAM, but that if ISPs like AOL and Hotmail didn't stop blocking his email, he was going to resort to using deceptive tactics again.  What do you think about that?

Richter: I think that is wrong and very bad. I am not him, so that is his business, not mine.

Aunty:  If you could advise the United States government as to the best thing they could do to stop that pesky spam problem, what would your advice be?

Richter: I think they have begun it, I think CAN SPAM is a start. I think that over time they will change it more, but at least they laid the ground work to start. Also with the FBI now investigating, and the FTC, I'm sure that a few more crackdowns like what took place a few weeks back will send a message to anyone U.S.-based, doing anything that is not compliant, to quit real fast.

Aunty:  Do you really think so?  You said earlier that it is like a chess game, others have compared it to a cat and mouse game.  Why do you think that if there are legal crackdowns, spammers will stop spamming rather than just finding a new move?

Richter: Just a lucky guess. My instinct tells me that most illegal spammers cannot be really making that much money, and that the cat and mouse game will end sooner or later for them.

As I have said and will always say, the big issue is this is a global issue, and while we may solve the problem here in the U.S., we need to solve it somehow globally.

Aunty:  Is there any question which you think Aunty should have asked you?  If so, what is it, and what is your answer?

Richter: So many, but I'd rather let the readers write in to ask what they feel is most important to them.

Aunty:  Is there anything else you would like to say to Aunty's readers, or the world at large?

Richter: The most important is that no matter what, people on either side of the issue should realize that at the end of the day we are all human, and that treating anyone like a human will get them a lot further then they may imagine.

---

To send questions or comments to Mr. Richter, please leave them as a comment to this article, and Mr. Richter will respond to them.

May 22, 2004

Advertiser Accountability under CAN-SPAM

Posted 1 week, 3 days ago on May 22, 2004
Aunty had a really proud moment this week, when Senator John McCain said, during the Senate Commerce Committee Hearings on the effectiveness of CAN-SPAM to date, "If the FTC can't find the spammers, it should do the next best thing: go after the businesses that knowingly hire spammers to promote their goods and services..."

Senator McCain is referring to Section 6 of CAN-SPAM, which holds those who knowingly advertise in spam responsible just as if they had sent the spam themselves.

Aunty worked closely with Senator McCain's office on both the concept, and on the language which ultimately became Section 6. Aunty believes strongly in advertiser accountability, and was proud to hear Senator McCain pointing to it, and telling the FTC to use it.

Thank you, Senator McCain! Kissy kissy, Aunty



May 20, 2004

Ronnie Scelson - Ironport's Newest Bonded Sender?

Posted 1 week, 6 days ago on May 20, 2004
You heard it from Aunty first - well, unless you've read the Reuters' article.

According to a Reuters report covering the testimony provided today by noted "Cajun Spammer" Ronnie Scelson to the Senate Commerce Committee, Scelson told the committee that he, and I quote, "has signed up for a "whitelist" program that would confiscate up to $25,000 if he sends spam."

This would seem to comport with another statement which he gave during the same testimony - that "he stood ready to deploy a range of deceptive tactics if large Internet providers like America Online and Microsoft Corp.'s Hotmail continued to block his messages", although I'll grant you that calling the Bonded Sender Program a deceptive tactic seems kind of harsh.

Given the recent announcement that Microsoft is giving an e-ticket to the inboxes of its Hotmail users for those senders listed on Ironport's Bonded Sender whitelist, and Aunty is pretty sure that there is no other program out there which would confiscate up to $25,000 if one of their participants sends spam, one is forced to the conclusion that Ronnie is now a Bonded Sender.

All other conclusions are left as an exercise for the reader.


Reuter article


Stop Me Before I Spam Again

Posted 1 week, 6 days ago on May 20, 2004
Noted "Cajun Spammer" Ronnie Scelson, responsible for 30million pieces of spam a day by his own calculations, told the United States Senate Commerce Committee during testimony today that while he has given up his wicked spamming ways, and now complies with CAN-SPAM, if people don't stop blocking his email he is going to start spamming again.

Cry me a river.

Scelson explained to the Senate committee that large ISPs such as AOL and Hotmail were blocking his mail. Apparently he takes exception to this.

Boo hoo hoo.

Then he advised the United States Senate Commerce Committee, while under oath, during testimony, that "he stood ready to deploy a range of deceptive tactics" from the underground nuclear fall-out shelter which he calls home if those mean ISPs don't stop picking on him during recess.

It's worth noting that Scelson advised the committee that he thought that CAN-SPAM "looks good but doesn't do a whole lot" (funny, many anti-spammers said the same thing about it, except for the looks good part). He must not have read it too closely though, because one of the things which it does do is explicitly state that ISPs are not required to accept, and indeed may block, anybody's email - even if that email complies with CAN-SPAM.

He also must not have realized that one other thing which CAN-SPAM does is allow the FTC to sue people who do things like..oh.. "deploying a range of deceptive tactics".

Still, nice of him to give the nice men in the suits a heads up.



Phish Fryer

Posted 1 week, 6 days ago on May 20, 2004 A 20-year-old man from Texas has been sentenced to 4 years for phishing, duping both PayPal and AOL customers into thinking that they had received email from those companies, inducing them to provide private information such as credit card and bank account numbers in order to keep their PayPal and AOL accounts from "being cancelled", and then using that informaion to defraud them to the tune of at least $50,000.

"Hoorah", says Aunty.

Phishers of the world take note: we like our phish fried.


May 19, 2004

Symantec to Acquire Brightmail

Posted 1 week, 6 days ago on May 19, 2004
Symantec, the company perhaps best-known for its Norton AntiVirus, has announced today that it will acquire anti-spam company Brightmail for a cool $300million. Symantec already owned 11% of Brightmail owing to an investment made in July of 2000.

Brightmail is, of course, the anti-spam purveyor to Hotmail.

Can an acquisition of IronPort by Symantec be far behind? Then Symantec would pretty much own the entire anti-spam gateway into Microsoft's inboxes.


May 17, 2004

Mind Gold: We Create Spam for You...er...You Send Spam for Us..er..You Pay Us...Argh! I'm So Confused!

Posted 2 weeks, 2 days ago on May 17, 2004
From the "what a novel approach to spamming" department, H & H Enterprises of Foxworth, Mississippi is offering "Mind Gold" to "help businesses attract new prospects and gain the loyalty of existing customers".

The gist of the Mind Gold program is that you subscribe to the Mind Gold e-zine, for a fee, and then every week you get a copy of the Mind Gold e-zine, already pre-branded with your name and contact information, and including any advertising which you care to wrap around it, and then send that personalized issue of Mind Gold out to your targe...er..users.

According to H&H;, the recipients won't mind receiving this unique version of spam, because "E-zines are the ideal way to use the Internet to attract new customers, and to stay in touch with existing customers, wrapping commercial messages around useful, compelling content that the consumer welcomes and wants to read."

H&H; goes on to explain that subscriptions "include a free signup webpage, where people can subscribe to receive the free E-zine. Companies simply send their customers to the signup Webpage and, when they sign up, send the E-zine they receive each week to their own growing list of subscribers. The content is focused on interviews with leading individuals in business, motivation, and life in general, so the E-zine appeals to literally anyone and any business."

Read as: the Mind Gold Pyramid.

This information, by the way, all comes directly from the H&Horse;'s mouth, from their own press release, ironically titled:

" New E-zine Service Solves "SPAM" Problem For Any Business Using E-mail Marketing"

Apparently the spam problem they are solving is that not enough of it is getting sent.

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