Spam as a weapon

How user anger is redirected to innocent people

You are annoyed by spam? Wait until you are mistaken for a spammer. Two women recently had this unpleasant experience.

Anyone who sends unsolicited commercial e-mails from their own e-mail address must be prepared for a lot of trouble. On the one hand, many complaints, threats of legal action and, above all, error messages will land in your mailbox in the next few days. On the other hand, you also run the risk that the provider will terminate the contract with the sender and present a fat bill – not to mention the criminal consequences.

This is the reason why all the nice purchase notices in your electronic mailbox also carry fake email addresses. What there seems to be from [email protected] or [email protected] comes in, is actually from a korean server or an open relay in bulgaria. Nothing is easier to fake than a sender address of emails.

Pit from the dialer

Cornelia tippner and patricia hecht, who work together on the webbuddies project, also had to make this experience. When an unknown person tried to spread a dialer via pit card, they set up an anti-dialer section on their site with a small petition to be sent to various places.

Not a very promising action, but apparently it was enough to attract the spammer’s attention. A little later, spam mails again landed in thousands of mailboxes – but this time the email addresses of the two women were given as senders. But that’s not all: in one mail, the phone numbers of the two women were also published with the request to call them.

More than 600 error messages landed in cornelia tippner’s mailbox, webbuddies has been deactivated in the meantime to give surfers an explanation for the alleged spam action. Some mail recipients also sent complaint emails and threatened legal action.

Joe jobs

The hoax with fake email addresses is not new. Already in 1997 there was a similar case: in march 1997 thousands of error messages flooded joe doll’s server, his website joe’s.Com had to go offline for 10 days. The case gave its name to the procedure: when email addresses are abused in this way, one talks about a "joe job".

Especially email addresses of anti-spam initiatives are used with pleasure . But even within the online porn industry, the joe job is apparently a tool in unfair competition. Unpopular competitors can be discredited in this way, and finding the real culprit is difficult or impossible.

Tippner and hecht also had to make this experience: neither providers nor complaints offices helped them any further. The police started an investigation, but didn’t really get anywhere. Eventually, the officers even wanted to pick up hecht’s pc in order to examine the data. Hecht refused and offered the officers copies of the relevant data instead.

In the meantime the flood of mails has subsided, webbuddies has resumed its normal operation. With considerable delay, even the company interfun, whose dialer was advertised in the spam mail that drew the case, has responded:

"We have thought about how we can do some justice to the inconvenience caused to the affected internet users by a handful of our advertisers, or rather turn the negative into something positive.

On monday the company interfun will make a donation of 1.900 euros to the german children’s cancer foundation. We think that it will also help your arger bzgl. Of the unsolicited advertising mail, since you have also contributed a small part with the mail to us that we had to consult and deal with this ie at all. In addition, we will continue to be active for such an initiative in the future, it concerns us all somehow, we agree on that."