Spam Watch

Vigilante justice on the electronic frontier

Spammers, scourges of your inbox, have proven to be elusive and cunning adversaries, fairly mocking the latest anti-spam shields employed by giants such as Hotmail and Yahoo. How gratifying, then, to see them suffer at the hands of their victims.

In July the Russian deputy communications minister, Andrei Korotkov, got fed up with the ever-increasing barrage of unsolicited e-mails in his inbox and took retaliatory action. According to The Moscow Times, Korotkov fought back by overwhelming one spammer's phone lines with repeated calls relaying a threatening message he recorded: "If you continue your illegal activity…measures will be taken…to make it impossible for you to get
in the way of e-mail users--and to make your life complicated."

Reports of other anti-spam vigilante actions are surfacing. Sure, you can try taking a spammer to court, but how much more immediate the gratification if you were to hack into an e-marketeer's communications system and program all its phones to ring simultaneously, as one avenger did recently in Houston? Or if you were to spam back using the same open-relay techniques employed by the spammers themselves, or jam their Web sites with denial-of-service attacks? Calls for such open-source programs have already been made to the hacker community.

Anti-spam activist Scott Hazen Mueller of spam.abuse.net does not advocate such guerrilla tactics, cautioning, "I wouldn't count on spammers staying within the bounds of civilized behavior in their responses to such retaliation." Indeed, even if aggressive action doesn't lead to war, beware the law of unintended consequences. One vigilante programmed her fax machine to dial a spammer's number repeatedly in an attempt to gum up the offender's phone line. She let this program run for a month. Unfortunately for her, the number turned out to be in Uzbekistan. Thousands of dollars of phone charges later, revenge was not so sweet.