Friday, April 13, 2007

hey ISPs, consider taking on spammers

Schneier on Security has a link to an analysis that suggests there are only a few big spam operations on the Internet, rather than a whole bunch of little ones. Essentially, the analysis looks at the variations in the amount of spam each day. If there are a whole lot of little spammers, all spamming in different directions, any given Internet Service Provider should see fairly constant incoming spam. But a lot of ISPs instead see wide variations in the amount of spam, suggesting there are a few big spammers and one day they're spraying Canada, the next they're going after China, and the day after they're hitting the U.S.

Why's that interesting? Well, the CAN-SPAM act, which, unfortunately, seems to be about the best we've got to work with, normally limits enforcement to the FTC or the state attorneys general. However, § 7(g) lets an ISP sue a spammer in federal court:
      (1) ACTION AUTHORIZED- A provider of Internet access service adversely affected by a violation of section 5(a)(1), 5(b), or 5(d), or a pattern or practice that violates paragraph (2), (3), (4), or (5) of section 5(a), may bring a civil action in any district court of the United States with jurisdiction over the defendant--
        (A) to enjoin further violation by the defendant; or
        (B) to recover damages in an amount equal to the greater of--
          (i) actual monetary loss incurred by the provider of Internet access service as a result of such violation; or
          (ii) the amount determined under paragraph (3).
Their damages will be $25-$100 per individual spam message, up to a max of $1,000,000, which the court may triple in the case of certain aggravating factors (like the defendant's doing it willfully or knowingly.) The court also has discretion to award the ISP attorney's fees.

Now, the FTC and attorneys general have bigger fish to fry than going after spammers, but ISPs feel this pain every day. It might not be worth their while to stamp out a bunch of little individual spammers around the Internet, but if it's only four or five big operations, that prospect starts looking a lot more interesting.

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