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Prosecution of billion-dollar Facebook spammer not over

Canadian ordered to pay $1bn, but 'case isn't done'

Facebook isn't finished with a Canadian who was ordered to pay the company CDN$1 billion last week for spamming.

Although the September 28 ruling by Quebec Superior Court closed Facebook's civil case against Montreal's Adam Guerbuez, the spammer has said he doesn't intend to pay a penny of the fine. He's declared bankruptcy, he told the Canadian Press on Tuesday.

Guerbuez didn't return messages seeking comment, but on his blog, he seems pleased with the publicity that the case has brought. He's looking for book or movie deals, and on Wednesday said he was happy to see Internet commentators expressing support for him following "the most ridiculous billion dollar judgement ever".

In a November 2008 decision the US District Court for the Northern District of California set the fine at $873 million. The Quebec court said that Guerbuez must pay that amount in Canadian dollars, valued at the November 2008 exchange rate.

But Guerbuez may soon have a more interesting tale to tell if he really does land that book deal.

"The case isn't done," said Joe Sullivan, Facebook's chief security officer, speaking in an interview at a security event hosted by Intel on Wednesday. He declined to comment on any possible criminal charges against Guerbuez, but that is a possibility.

In court filings, Facebook accuses Guerbuez of setting up fake phishing web pages to trick victims into giving up their usernames and passwords and then using a botnet of hacked computers to send out more than 4 million spam messages. If the allegations are true, that could lead to criminal charges in addition to the civil judgement against him.

Guerbuez did not return messages seeking comment.

According to Peter Cassidy, secretary general of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, it's unlikely that law enforcement will pursue criminal charges against Guerbuez, despite his high profile. "There are professional botnet guys... and they are probably higher on law enforcement's list than one loud guy," he said. Guerbuez may have annoyed a lot of people, but unlike the criminals behind, say, the Zeus Trojan program, he's not accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars.

This isn't the only big judgement against a Facebook spammer. Last year, the company secured a similar $711 million judgement against notorious spammer Sanford Wallace.

Though Sullivan used to be sceptical about the effectiveness of civil cases, he's changed his mind. The big judgements that Facebook has received are causing some spammers to think twice, he said. He's seen discussions in underground forums where spammers say things like, "I don't want a $100 million judgement hanging over me," he said.

Sullivan added that he is happy with the Quebec court's decision.

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