Juha Saarinen

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Spammers hit below men's belts

By JUHA SAARINEN

Competing fiercely with solicitation from the relatives of dead African dictators and US mortgage sales pitches, spammers are targeting men with big ambitions.

The emails arrive daily: "How to boost your penis size & self-esteem" and "Satisfy your lover with an increased penis size" etc.

Last week, my tally of "make big penis fast" spams went beyond the nuisance quota. I decided to track down the sender.

Although the origin of the spammer was hidden behind forged sender addresses and hijacked internet-connected computers, the domain names of the websites where you place the orders cannot be forged. Using the "whois" protocol, you can look up who the domain name is registered to.

Often, the domain name details are forged - one spammer claimed to be "Tom Crusie" of "Holloywood".

But if you search the Usenet news.net-admin newsgroups through Google Groups, you can often find the offender by piecing together information collated by anti-spammers.

In this case, the trail ended at Shane Atkinson, of Christchurch.

When I rang, Atkinson calmly told me he had been spamming for a year and had no qualms about it. He would not give details about how profitable his business is, but said it allowed him to keep a nice car and own a house.

The scale of the spamming is staggering. On a good day Atkinson and his associates send "up to 100 million" messages.

He pays associates to do the actual spamming, mentioning a 15-year-old working from the United States who earns US$500 ($850) a day.

To avoid being shut down, Atkinson hosts a variety of domains with names such as sizepills.biz, rxmedicalgroup.com, penis-tips.com and sapublishings.com on spam-friendly network providers in Poland and Pakistan who ignore complaints.

"There are spam hosts in America, but they tend to close down quickly due to complaints," he says.

While he could host here, New Zealand spam hosting is too slow.

No, it doesn't bother him that he annoys people, or that some of his spams are received by minors.

Atkinson says he routinely gets "denial of service" attacks against his servers, plus nightly phone calls and death threats.

In his view, spam is part and parcel of being on the internet. "If you don't want to receive spam, don't connect to the internet, or don't have an email address."

Against the received wisdom that asking to be removed from a spammer's mailing list only confirms your address as "live" and increases the junk you receive, I ask Atkinson to stop spamming me.

To my surprise, the request appears to have been honoured. Atkinson says affiliates must check their lists against a list of addresses to be removed. "This is one rule we are very strict on."

He does not understand why anti-spammers become so worked up.

"Just delete them."

Atkinson says spamming is not an easy job - "You have to shift servers all the time" - but it does allows him to reach great numbers of people across the world cheaply.

If he is selling anything like the 6000 bottles a month of penis growth pills sold by another spamming firm, Amazing Internet Products, as reported in Wired magazine, then he is doing very well. At US69.65 a bottle, you do the maths.

"whois" protocol

Google groups

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