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Spam comes under attack in British courts (Intermediate)

Stuart Millar
Wednesday June 18, 2003
The Guardian

Microsoft has taken the significant step of starting two legal actions in Britain against distributors of junk email as part of a global attempt to stop the spam problem.

Microsoft stated yesterday that in addition to 15 cases it has begun in the United States, it was bringing two cases against spammers in the UK under the Computer Misuse Act - Their first attempt to use the courts to battle spam in Europe.

Both cases involve so-called dictionary attacks on the company's servers, in which the spammer builds random email addresses with a known domain name, for example joebloggs@msn.com. This idea allows the spammer to generate lists of "live" email addresses which can be sold on or used for future spam attacks.

In the first case, Microsoft's servers were attacked more than 455,000 times, giving them more than 3m email addresses, of which more than 225,000 were real.

The second case was an attack on both Microsoft and a British anti-spam organisation. Every wrong address created sent an undelivered message to the anti-spam group in an attack so severe that its email system stopped working for several days.

The legal action comes as fears grow over the threat that the explosion in spam brings to the whole global email system. Junk mail, most of it sent by 150 people based in the US, accounts for about half of all emails, much of it offering pornography and ways to get rich quickly.

Recent research suggests that spam cost European businesses about 2.5bn last year, and it continues to grow at a faster and faster rate.

Microsoft has a special interest in leading the battle against the spammers. Its free email service, Hotmail, suffers more than most from junk mail and it is the company's Windows PCs that are most open to attack by spammers trying to take over computers to send the mail from.

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Adapted by Chris Fry, July 2003 from http://media.guardian.co.uk/newmedia/story/0,7496,979863,00.html MediaGuardian.co.uk Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003