HUA HIN, Thailand - In a significant victory in the war on spam, a notorious
fraudster dubbed the "Spam King" pleaded guilty in the US last week and could
face up to 20 years inside. Robert Soloway admitted to sending out tens of
millions of unsolicited corporate emails with fake headers over the past five
years. He used a system of bots - automated scripts and computers infected with
malicious software - to distribute his wares through his Newport Internet
Marketing Corporation, which sold broadcast email services.
Seattle's US District Court has become the venue for a number of high-profile
spam cases recently; many attribute this to Microsoft, which has filed more
than 130 lawsuits against alleged US-based
spammers. Many of them have been filed in Seattle courts, which makes the city
a hotbed of spam-based litigation and prosecution. Microsoft filed and won a
US$7.8 million civil judgment against Soloway for spamming through its Hotmail
service in 2005.
Soloway sold his services as opt-in and permission-based email but actually
ended up spamming millions of inboxes, which resulted in many of his clients
getting blacklisted by Internet service providers and others. He has also
pleaded guilty to mail fraud and failure to file tax returns and will be
sentenced on June 20.
These cases highlight the inherent problems with email and the software that
the majority of people use to send and receive it. The days of a small slice of
Amazonian rain forest coming through your letter box and piling up on your
doormat have been replaced by the same problem in the cyber world. Spam is the
scourge of the Internet - although many will disagree and put the blame on Asia
Times Online's occasionally tawdry network advertisements - and something needs
to be done to stamp it out.
It has reached such levels now that many free web-based email providers have
employed such strong spam filters that users may be losing up to half of their
genuine email. Two major culprits of this are Hotmail and Aol, which will dump
anything remotely spammy into users' junk box, which rarely gets looked at. The
future of email may be that you can only receive from addresses that you have
deemed safe and placed in a "white list" - everything else goes into the
Many people already employ this practice or use a system whereby the sender
needs to go to a third party site to fill in a form to prove that they're not
sending you spam. This takes time and email is all about saving time, so plenty
of time-challenged individuals will simply not bother, leaving the recipient
again missing out on genuine email.
Software security flaws also allow malicious little cretins into the system so
they can manipulate it to suit their needs, in this case setting up a "zombie"
computer that just churns out spam while disguising the origin. The owner of
the PC remains blissfully unaware and continues to write letters to auntie
Maple and play solitaire while his computer is beavering away doing its best to
promote the Russian porn industry.
There are a number of steps one can take to make a computer a little safer and
less of a target for spam and malicious software. The obvious one is to stop
using Microsoft products, but that's not always practical. A third-party
firewall, updated antivirus software and a couple of good spyware and malware
scanners should do the trick. Going online without these few basic tools today
would be the equivalent of leaving the keys in your car, the door open, and
engine running when parked in a city's rougher regions overnight and expecting
it to be there the next morning. The Internet is one big bad neighborhood so
you need to take a few basic precautions before you venture into it.
If you are unfortunate enough to already be the recipient of more spam than a
Monty Python sketch there is not a great deal you can do aside from using a
decent email client (such as Mozilla Thunderbird) which can help you manage it
and send it where it belongs. Once your email address is out there on the
distribution lists it's hard to get it back. It is good practice to have two
accounts, one kept private and one for use publicly and on the Internet; the
latter will soon become a spam receptacle as email addresses these days are
sought-after commodities, especially to the likes of Soloway the "Spam King"
who will sell them on for vast profit.
After months of delay and re-fixing numerous faults, Microsoft released Service
Pack 1 for Windows Vista this week. The heavy 435-megabyte download contains
all of the updates for the past year as well as a number of reliability and
performance improvements which speed up file transfer amongst other things. The
service pack is also available through the Windows update feature; it will
automatically detect problem drivers, which are quite abundant according to
recent reports. So now that Vista has had its first major tune up can we expect
a problem-free, smooth-running operating system? I think you know the answer to
Two industry giants put their corporate heads together this week in an effort
to finance university research into breaking new grounds in computing
technology. Intel and Microsoft will be fronting a $20 million research grant
for new departments and laboratories at Berkeley and the University of
Illinois. It is hoped that the combined efforts will pave the way into a new
generation of computing whereby the industry can move on from increasing speed
on silicon chips.
Currently the emphasis is on multi-core processors and two-, four- and even
eight-core CPUs can be found in the marketplace. However, should a step be made
towards 100-core processors there needs to be the software to take advantage of
it. The new research program will assist in the development of parallel
computing systems from a hardware and software perspective.
The research labs at IBM have also been a hotbed of activity with the company
hard at work developing optical switches for faster and more energy-efficient
on-chip communication and data transfer. The nanophotonic switches are the
smallest of their kind developed so far, according to IBM, which aims to
replace traditional copper wire as a medium of information transfer. "It is
envisioned that using light instead of wires, as much as 100 times more
information can be sent between cores, while using 10 times less power and
consequently generating less heat," the company stated.
With all this high-speed computing soon to be available, let's hope that
telecommunications companies and Internet providers can get their digital
fingers out and improve the infrastructure so that Internet speeds and
bandwidth can keep up with the pace. Then those of us not blessed with
blisteringly fast Internet connections maybe able to download the Vista service
pack in less than half a day!
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.