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Microsoft unleashes legal attack dogs on spammers

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Microsoft is to hold a press conference today in New York with Eliot Spitzer, the state's attorney general, to promote a joint crackdown against spam.

Reuters, which heralds the news conference, has no specific details, but considering that Spitzer, the scourge of Wall Street is involved, it is reasonably safe to infer that the duo are seeking to hunt down and prosecute the bulk spammers.

To date, Earthlink, the leading US ISP, has been the most vigorous organisation in the courts against individual spammers. But US legal authorities are getting more interested lately, too. Last week, the state of Virginia indicted two men, one an alleged "spam kingpin" under felony - i.e. criminal - charges. The two face fines and prison if convicted.

Microsoft has also been busy this year on the anti-spam front. In June, chairman Bill Gates issued a clarion call to fight spam. He outlined a three-pronged strategy: to build spam filters within Microsoft email clients, to work with the likes of AOL and Earthlink to improve spam filters at the email server level; and to pursue spammers through the courts.

The company has cleaned up its own act, introducing anti-spam filters to MSN Hotmail, once notorious for the stream of porn and viagra come-ons, but now a much cleaner spam-free-ish experience, users report.

In June this year, Microsoft launched 15 civil suits in the US and the UK against alleged spammers (one Liverpudlian, it turned out, was wrongly included. Microsoft later apologised).

According to SpamHaus, the anti-spam outfit, around 200 people, the vast majority American, are responsible for 90 per cent of the world's spam. This year, by some estimates spam has accounted for half the world's email, creating nice opportunities for email filter software firms, and irritation and headaches to consumers, businesses and ISPs.

Fraudsters are increasingly using spam to ensnare unwitting victims, the credit card phishing expeditions and 419-type advance fee fraud. Also, spammers are increasingly using Trojans to turn victims' PCs into zombies. These are used to pump out even more spam, or DDOS attacks against anti-spam operations. SoBig-F, responsible for 2003's worst virus outbreak, is said to have used the virus for this purpose. ®

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