Microsoft to sue spammers


19 Dec 2003

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Microsoft said yesterday that it would be filing lawsuits against US email marketing companies that it alleges are responsible for much of the unsolicited commercial email or spam directed at its Hotmail web mail service.

The announcement follows the filing yesterday by New York’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, of a civil lawsuit against three companies. Spitzer said he intended to drive the firms out of business by seeking punitively large penalties in court.

Outlining similar intentions at a joint press conference, Microsoft said it would be seeking US$18.8m in damages against the companies.

As a result of a joint six-month investigation between the Attorney General’s office and Microsoft, both parties are taking legal action against Synergy 6, an email marketing firm based in New York, and Scott Richter, who has been dubbed the world’s third-largest spammer by Rokso, the Register of Unknown Spam Operations (listed on Spamhaus.org, an anti-spam consumer rights organisation). It is understood that Richter who owns a Nevada-based company called OptInRealBig and lives in Colorado, was subcontracted to work on Synergy 6’s behalf. A third company, Delta 7, is also alleged to be involved.

It is alleged that Richter and accomplices in Washington, Texas and New York are responsible for seven spam campaigns. In addition, Microsoft filed an additional five lawsuits against other spammers who allegedly used the same transmission path – 514 compromised internet protocol (IP) addresses in 35 countries – that originally led investigators to Richter and the spam network.

Brad Smith, senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Microsoft, said: “Deceptive and illegal spam, like the kind we’re attacking today, is overwhelming legitimate email and threatening the promise and potential of the internet for all of us.”

Microsoft revealed some weeks ago that Hotmail was blocking spam messages at a rate of 2.4 billion a day. The company has also estimated that spam is costing it tens of millions of dollars a year in anti-spam personnel, hardware and network bandwidth. The software giant fears that the global deluge of spam is knocking consumer confidence in email and the internet and could stunt the growth of e-commerce. As part of its Trustworthy Computing initiative launched last year, Microsoft outlined a five-pronged programme for fighting spam, one element of which was enforcement of anti-spam legislation.

By Brian Skelly