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Analysis: Is spam email dying?

Spam kings fight back

October saw two of the world's latest contributors of spam shut down. Levels of spam are lower than before, but we look at why nothing has been done with the data centres of these spam kings.

In October this year spam kings across the globe felt the full force of the law, when two networks responsible for huge amounts of spam were shut down.

On October 14, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), with help from the FBI and New Zealand police, announced that it had shut down a vast international spam network known as HerbalKing.

It was a triumphant moment for the FTC, which said that the group had been linked to as much as a third of the junk email on the internet. In an interview with The New York Times, FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz was modest in his appraisal of the situation.

"They were sending extraordinary amounts of spam," he said. "We are hoping at some level that this will help make a small dent in the amount of spam coming into consumers' in-boxes."

The FTC's HerbalKing operation grabbed a lot of headlines, but it didn't do much to reduce the amount of spam on the internet, researchers say. Within a week, spam was as big of a problem as ever.

Instead, it took another operation, two weeks later, against the US ISP McColo, to really reduce the amount of spam. But although McColo appears to have been a playground for internet criminals, no federal agency, not the FTC, not the FBI, not the Secret Service or the Department of Justice, was involved in shutting it down.

With McColo, internet researchers and Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs in essence shamed ISPs Global Crossing and Hurricane Electric into dropping service for McColo, whose network had been associated with a range of illegal activity from hacked botnet computers to spam and even child pornography.

Unlike HerbalKing, the results after McColo's takedown were dramatic. About half of the spam on the internet disappeared.

Cisco Systems' IronPort division says that though there have been some brief spikes in activity, spam is still down significantly from where it was prior to the McColo takedown. McColo could not be reached for comment on this story.

NEXT PAGE: McColo's data remains untouched

  1. Will two antispam operations really stop the problem?
  2. McColo's data remains untouched
  3. McColo wasn't directly responsible for spam
  4. Potential law enforcement changes

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