Friday, August 26, 2005

Internet Abuse Crackdown

Two separate legal developments represent victories in the ongoing battle against two major issues plaguing the Internet: viruses and spam. In the first instance, Morocco and Turkey both cooperated with the FBI and arrested two individuals accused of writing and spreading the Mytob, Zotob, and RBot worms. (CNN Money: Turk, Moroccan nabbed in huge worm case).

One of the problems that confronts US law enforcement agencies pursuing the creators of worms or viruses is that they often originate overseas. Having both Morocco and Turkey cooperate in arresting these two is encouraging. The economic impact of worms, viruses and denial of service attacks is staggering in developed nations. The business world is heavily dependent on the internet for everything from sales to marketing to banking to stock trading. For good or ill, the internet is now a critical resource in the business world.

The second development involves a federal indictment against three Arizona residents for sending bulk pornographic spam via e-mail. According to the Justice Department, the unsolicited e-mail numbered in the tens of millions. (ZDNet: Three indicted in major spam case). At issue with the Justice Department is the unsolicited burst of pornography. Regardless of the content, however, spam itself is a plague and any ruling that reduces the amount of garbage sent via e-mail is a major step forward.

Companies are forced to go through great pains to reduce the amount of spam hitting their e-mail servers. This drives up the cost of providing e-mail services to employees. In today's business environment, e-mail (like the Internet itself) has developed into a mission critical application.

Home consumers are at even greater risk to the pains of e-mail spam. Many services now offer some form of spam guard, but these services are imperfect and often filter out legitimate e-mails that the consumer wants and needs. As a result of e-mail spam, business use of e-mail for such cost cutting measures as providing customer statements, phone bills, stock confirmations, etc. becomes less practical. Coupled with spams illegal cousin - the phishing scam - it actually becomes risky for business to legitimately contact their customers via e-mail.

In the US, the number of phone solicitations to the consumer have dropped dramatically thanks to the implementation of a federal "do not call" list and legislation designed to punish telemarketers that violate that list. Unfortunately, such measures do not work with something as global as e-mail. Solving the problem of spam is an international problem that requires cooperation between international law enforcement agencies. It is likely legally impossible to stop the spread of spam, worms, or viruses. Still, the actions taken in Morocco, Turkey, and Arizona are a major step in the right direction. We just need a lot more steps taken.


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