Spammer Gets New Link To Internet
From Inter@ctive Week for April 21, 1997 by Will Rodger and Randy Barrett
Cyber Promotions Inc. appears poised to unleash another flood of spam, this time aimed at small and midsized Internet service providers.
The Philadelphia purveyor of unsolicited e-mail said last week it had signed a contract with WorldCom Inc. (www.wcom.com) to send spam to the Internet across WorldCom's transcontinental backbone.
WorldCom's UUnet Technologies Inc., estimated to be the world's fourth largest carrier of Internet traffic, agreed to a three-year contract that gives Cyber Promo (www.cyberpromo.com) capacity to send nearly 100 average-sized e-mail messages per second.
The contract effectively shatters UUnet's (www.uu.net) status as a spam-intolerant carrier and follows similar deals with smaller carriers Apex Global Internet Services Inc., or AGIS (www. agis.net), and Cable and Wireless Inc. (www.cwi.net).
For Cyber Promo, it's another lifeline, following banishment from America Online Inc., CompuServe Corp., Netcom On-Line Communication Services Inc. and Prodigy Inc.
But backbone networks that support spammers deeply anger Internet service providers, or ISPs, which battle junk mail daily. ISPs insist network operators should block such traffic. For example, Dearborn, Mich.-based AGIS is under attack by a group of ISPs that said they might soon block the network from their servers because it has become a haven for junk e-mailers.
Opponents of unsolicited e-mail said spam takes up too much of their time and energy, amounting to a nuisance that is or should be illegal. So far, though, they've had no specifics with which to make their case.
That could change this week, when New York's Voters Telecommunications Watch (www.vtw.org), Electronic Frontiers Austin (Texas) and Electronic Frontiers Florida launch two surveys of Internet users' experiences with spam.
Though unscientific and dependent on users' awareness, the poll will ask Netizens how much unsolicited, commercial e-mail they receive each week, whether they use mail filters or agents to dispose of it before it hits their boxes, and how much time and money they spend getting rid of the messages. A second survey will assess the impact of spammers on the operations of ISPs.
"I think it's a somewhat complex problem," VTW founder Shabbir Safdar said. "There needs to be a gathering of basic information for the workshop."
The groups will sponsor the survey as part of preparations for a roundtable on online privacy at the Federal Trade Commission, June 10-13.
"There's so much talk recently about the right of people to send unsolicited e-mail, but not as much about people having the right to monitor their own disk space," said Scott Brower, executive director of Electronic Frontiers Florida.
"We want to get a feel for how people feel about this. Both sides have very good points," he said.
VTW, an online advocacy group, said it needs input from the average user, but also wants to take into account the interests of business before it puts forward suggestions on how or if the FTC should regulate spam.
Though the FTC has taken no official position on the practice, Commissioner Christine Varney has repeatedly warned the industry that Congress could easily draft legislation to ban spam under laws similar to those that outlawed junk faxes in the 1980s.
And now... The Rest of the Story
Here's a note from some e-mail received on April 24, 1997:
I received a nice email from Worldcom today, stating "A new WorldCom sales representative mistakenly signed on Cyber Promotions. The contract has since been cancelled."
ISPs Push AGIS To Block Spam
From Inter@ctive Week for April 21, 1997 by Randy Barrett
Internet service providers frustrated with spam attacks are turning their wrath on Apex Global Information Services Inc., a network that regularly allows junk e-mail to travel its backbone.
The situation has deteriorated over the past three weeks as many Internet service providers, or ISPs, have received thousands of spams from two of the biggest junk mailers in the industry -- Cyber Promotions Inc. and Quantcom Communications Inc. -- over AGIS' (www.agis.net) pipeline. Requests to stop the spamming have been regularly ignored by the two companies, but ISPs are especially upset that complaints to AGIS network operations have fallen on deaf ears as well.
"They're abdicating their responsibility. They're taking the safe approach," says James Smallacombe, president of PlantagaNet Internet Ltd. (www.pil.net), in Doylestown, Pa.
Smallacombe and others want Dearborn, Mich.-based AGIS to drop Cyber Promo and Quantcom as customers and block them from its network. In response, AGIS says spam control is not its responsibility.
"We are concerned about the issue, but we're just a common carrier," says Cary Joshi, AGIS' director of corporate development, who suggests ISPs take up the problem with the upstream providers originating the spam.
That stance, regarded by ISPs as a nonpolicy, is creating deep resentment as providers battle a daily flood of junk mail from Cyber Promo and Quantcom, which are themselves access providers and therefore untouchable.
"They're passing the buck to nobody," Smallacombe says.
Joshi says he understands the problem but blocking spammers from the AGIS backbone represents a slippery slope to censorship: "As a common carrier, is it our place to be Big Brother? Where does it end?"
It might just end with a blockade of AGIS itself. ISPs around the country are debating filtering AGIS permanently, or for set periods of time, to show their displeasure.
"If AGIS thinks that providing network access to spam outfits is a viable business model, fine with me. Let the market be the judge. AGIS is not on my list of recommended network access providers," says John Capo, a consultant with IRBS Engineering in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
There are other choices available for the spam-conscious bandwidth buyer. Such major networks as America Online Inc., BBN Planet, MCI Communications Corp., The Microsoft Network, MindSpring Enterprises Inc., Netcom On-Line Communication Services Inc. and PSINet Inc. have strict policies against spamming and generally move quickly to stop offenders.
Spammers regularly "hijack" ISP mail servers and use them as relay stations for millions of junk-mail messages. Doing so requires little more than pointing an e-mail message to a remote mail server with thousands or millions of carbon copies attached. Most ISP mail server addresses are public information and can be found easily in e-mail headers. The result is crashes and bandwidth depletion that ISPs say take hours to fix. Further, since the spam travels through their network, the unfortunate ISPs get many of the return flame attacks from angry recipients.
Second-party spamming has other clear advantages for junk mailers: It is nearly impossible to block, since spammers change relays daily. To fight the trend, ISPs are trying to set up ways to charge for such relays.
Meanwhile, AGIS positions itself as a provider for the "new" commercial Internet and plays down complaints it gets from outraged ISPs. Many have tried using the AGIS spam abuse mailbox but get an automated message saying unsolicited e-mail is legal.
"They've absolutely refused to do anything about it," says Dean Richardson, president of Left Coast Systems Corp. (www.mortimer.com), an ISP in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, who has seen 10 of his mail servers hijacked by Quantcom via AGIS.
When pressed, AGIS officials insist their role is not to intercede by blocking their own customers.
"We encourage the end user to protect themselves, and we will help in that regard," Joshi says.
View Cyberpromo domain names.