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Microsoft has targeted spammers with a lawsuit aimed at bulk mailers who harvest email addresses of Hotmail subscribers in order to bombard them with junk.

The lawsuit, against unnamed defendants, was filed in the federal court for the northern district of California in San Jose yesterday, CNET reports.

In the suit, Microsoft alleges that unnamed bulk mailers used tools to randomly generate email addresses prior to testing this list out to see which accounts were active. Essentially this is a form of dictionary attack, which Microsoft argues violates federal laws including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Trespass is also involved in the attacks, the software giant argues.

Success in getting the suit through would strengthen Microsoft's hand if it came to sue particular spammers for using this type of attack in the future.

Earlier this week, Microsoft published an opinion piece calling for stronger legislative action against bulk mailing practices.

Last week lawyers Masons produced a study arguing that laws are often ineffective against spammers. Microsoft too recognises that legal actions alone aren't enough and that a multipronged approach - involved educating users and developing more sophisticated technology to eradicate spam - is needed.

Hotmail has come a long way from the days two years ago when it placed subscribers' email addresses on a public Internet directory site when they sign up for the service, making them easy prey for spammers (story here).

Microsoft's change of attitude is to be welcomed. After all there's no-one more zealous than a reformed sinner.

In September last year MSN signed a deal with Brightmail to help make sure fewer spam messages reached Hotmail In-boxes. ®

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