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Blue Security calls it quits after attack by renegade spammer

Folds spam fighting operation

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Anti-spam firm Blue Security is to scrap its spam-fighting effort after deciding its escalating conflict with a renegade spammer was placing the internet as a whole in jeopardy.

Blue Security established a ‘Do Not Intrude Registry’ (akin to the Do Not Call Registry for telemarketing) with around 450,000 members. Participants downloaded a small tool, called Blue Frog, which systematically floods the websites of spammers with opt-out messages. Depending on your point of view, this initiative can either be viewed as community action or vigilantism.

Last month, members of the Blue community received aggressive spam messages in an attempt to intimidate users into dropping out of Blue Security's network. Ordinary punters who had nothing to do with Blue Security also received the same messages proving, if proof were needed, that the belligerent junk mail campaign was a scatter-shot affair.

This campaign of intimidation was followed by a sophisticated denial of service attack against Blue Security's website. According to Blue Security, a renegade Russian language speaking spammer known as PharmaMaster succeeded in bribing a top-tier ISP's staff member into black holing Blue Security's former IP address (194.90.8.20) at internet backbone routers. This rendered Blue's main website inaccessible outside Israel.

After Blue made configuration changes to point users towards its TypePad-hosted weblog, bluesecurity.blogs.com, PharaMaster upped the ante by launching a massive denial of service attack against TypePad and any other organisation associated with Blue Security. The attack forced Six Apart, which runs TypePad and Live Journal, offline leaving the information superhighway temporarily bereft of the outpourings of numerous bloggers. The sophisticated attack also disrupted the net operations of five top-tier hosting providers in the US and Canada, as well as a major DNS provider for several hours.

"We didn't think PharmaMaster would go to extreme of launching a denial of service attack against so many organisations. With 20-20 hindsight we wouldn't have made these configuration changes, but at the time we didn't think he'd go so far," Blue Security CEO Eran Reshef told El Reg at the time. "My mistake was not anticipating he'd go berserk."

Blue reckons PharmaMaster hired a botnet to launch the assault. During an ICQ conversation, PharmaMaster told Blue Security that if he can't send spam, there will be no internet.

After the attack, Blue Security embarked on restoring its community-based anti-spam service to its members. But after working closely with its service providers and partners to help resolve the problems over the last two weeks, it has come to the conclusion that the risk of further attacks remains too great. Despite moving hosting providers and implementing security defences, Blue reckons it's unable to safely reintroduce its controversial service without exposing other members of the net community to potential attack.

"It's clear to us that [quitting] would be the only thing to prevent a full-scale cyber-war that we just don't have the authority to start," Reshef told washingtonpost.com. "Our users never signed up for this kind of thing."

Blue's decision to shut up shop is understandable but regrettable, because it represents a significant victory by a spammer in the fight to control the internet. In effect, PharmaMaster has succeeded in his main aim of getting Blue Security to dismantle. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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