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Top 10 Spam Stories of 2008

Well, it’s a yearly tradition in the western hemisphere that at the end of the year, we compose a top 10 list of the 10 most

. Since it is now 2009, I thought that I would create my own list of the top 10 spam stories of 2008.

Now, not all of these will be universally applicable to everyone, they are the top 10 stories as seen by me:

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1. Backscatter makes the news. Backscatter spam is a scourge on the internet, and it made big headlines this year, so much so that even the USA Today covered it. Even bigger coverage? I blogged about it in an 18-part series. Take that, USA Today!

2. Spammers get huge fines, sentenced to prison. Dubbed the original Spam King, Sanford Wallace finally had a big corporation come after him—Newscorp. In May of 2008, he was hit with a $230 million dollar fine for spamming MySpace. He should have held out a few more months and then asked the government for a bailout.

On a similar note, Seattle Spammer Robert Soloway was convicted on three charges and faces up to 27 years in prison. I considered going down to the court house and watching the sentencing; I never got around to it. Probably a good thing I couldn’t engage in a little schadenfreude.

3. Eddie Davidson escapes from jail, commits suicide. Certainly a big news story in the spam world, if not tragic, convicted spammer Eddie Davidson escaped from a minimum security prison. He then went and killed his family. A very sad ending to this story.

4. Spammers spoof CNN news outbreaks. Spammers spoofing news organizations is nothing new, and spoofing in general is a technique almost as old as spam itself. However, in August of this year, spammers released a new outbreak of spam that looked exactly like a CNN breaking news report. What set this one apart was how legitimate it looked and the size of the spam outbreak. The payload led users to get their computers infected with malware; the spammers did their homework on this one.

5. V3: Rise of the Viruses. Viruses attached to emails have always been around. They certainly aren’t anything new, that’s for sure. But 2008 saw a huge increase in the number of viruses attached to email. We saw over a 5x increase. Are your antivirus definitions up-to-date?

6. Outbound filtering now in vogue. This is not a story that affects everyone in the anti-spam world (or maybe it is). However, I have spent an entire year working on cutting down the amount of spam that passes through our outbound servers. I used to concern myself with inbound traffic; now, I realize that my responsibilities (and time and energy) flow in both directions. Outbound filtering has caused me more (figurative) headaches than any other spam issue.

7. David Ritz has his case ruled against him. In a case that upset pretty much everyone in the antispam community, a judge in North Dakota ruled in favor of e360 in their case against him that he unlawfully broke into their servers. The anti-spam community pointed out that the tools he used are available to pretty much anyone.

8. e360 sues Comcast, gets it’s case tossed out. e360 got a little bolder when it decided to take on Comcast and sue them for preventing their business from operating as normal. Comcast counter-filed and the judge agreed; e360’s case was tossed out and the judge wasn’t particularly ambiguous about it. To quote the judge “Plaintiff e360Insight, LLC is a marketer. It refers to itself as an Internet marketing company. Some, perhaps even a majority of people in this country, would call it a spammer.” that’s making it pretty clear what the judge thought of the case.

9. Now we know why spammers keep at it—people keep buying their stuff. An article earlier this year on Directmag reported on a study that (apparently) 29% of people have purchased goods from their email spam. Everyone I know reacted with skepticism but the point was made, even if this is out by a factor of 100, 0.3% of users buying stuff from their spam makes it really easy for spammers to make money with their economic model. Send out tons of messages, get people to respond. It’s easy to reach that many people by using email. Will people never learn?

10. McColo goes offline, spam plummets 50% overnight. This is, by far, the number one news story of spam this year. A reporter for the Washington Post pestered some ISPs to shut down California-based McColo, considered by many to be a spam hosting operation. When they finally did, global spam levels plummeted that same day. The reprieve was short-lived and they are coming back up but the point is made—if somebody has the will to do it, spam can suffer serious setbacks. I enjoyed some schadenfreude on this one, too.

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Well, that’s the way I saw the world this year. Hope everyone had a happy new year and I’ll see you in 2009!

By Terry Zink, Program Manager

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You forgot estdomains and atrivo, mate :) Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jan 2, 2009 1:21 AM

Otherwise - yes, I agree.

Typo in point 7, e360 was not Terry Zink  –  Jan 2, 2009 5:54 PM

Typo in point 7, e360 was not the plaintiff in the ND case. Accused spammer Jerry Reynolds was the plaintiff.

MyColo Darren Hocks  –  Jan 2, 2009 10:39 PM

Seems like spam is on the rise again after the MyColo takedown. But hopefully they learned from that and can take folks down quicker in the future. Best defense is still a good spam filter like SpamBully or spam bayes

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