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FTC Needs Help Against Spam Zombies

David Utter
Expert Author
Published: 2005-05-25

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Citing a vast number of compromised PCs being used as spam forwarders, the FTC wants help in shutting them down in Operation Spam Zombies.

Paging Bruce Campbell, Jon Leibowitz needs your help.

Spammers use a variety of tricks to gain access to home computers that are not properly secured, and route millions of pieces of mail through them without the owner's knowledge.

This disguises the true source of the unsolicited commercial e-mail, and makes it difficult for authorities to track down those who misuse the Internet for financial gain.

The FTC and its 35 partners in more than 20 countries announced Operation Spam Zombies yesterday. This will be an initiative focused on educating Internet service providers abut measures they can take to help reduce the unrelenting flow of junk e-mail.

Among the measures the FTC will promote are the following:

  1. blocking a common Internet port used for e-mail when possible;
  2. applying rate-limiting controls for e-mail relays;
  3. identifying computers that are sending atypical amounts of e-mail and take steps to determine if the computer is acting as a spam zombie. When necessary, quarantine the affected computer until the source of the problem is removed;
  4. providing plain-language information for customers on how to keep their home computers secure; and
  5. providing or pointing their customers to easy-to-use tools to remove zombie code if their computers become infected.

"Computers around the globe have been hijacked to send unwanted e-mail," said Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "With our international partners, we're urging Internet Service Providers worldwide to step up their efforts to protect computer users from costly, annoying, and intrusive spam ‘zombies.'"

The FTC has created a Web page, www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/spam/zombie/index.htm, for this project. It includes a summary of the project, the letter that the FTC and its partners are sending to ISPs, and a list of participating agencies from around the world.

One ISP has been proactive in attacking the spam zombies already. In a statement, EarthLink's chief technology officer, Tripp Cox, noted his company's support of the measure:

"EarthLink supports the FTC's efforts to promote best practices for fighting spam.

"As a leader in the fight against spam, EarthLink uses aggressive technical measures to stop junk e-mail, including blocking Port 25, applying rate-limiting controls and working with customers to provide advice and assistance in securing individual PCs.

"In addition, we've taken our technical fight against spam even further by implementing SMTP authentication at the server level and providing customers with EarthLink spamBlocker, which filters virtually 100 percent of unwanted junk e-mail."

Hail to the king, baby.

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

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