A loose coalition of system administrators on Friday began issuing a "Usenet Death Penalty" against UUNET, a major Internet service provider, for its alleged failure to curb spam emanating from its dialup accounts.
The penalty entails the use of a program called a cancelbot, which issue cancel messages that travel from site to site, looking for newsgroup messages that originate from a particular person or ISP. When they find a target message, the message is erased from the newsgroup.
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The action marks the first time a large-scale ISP has been the target of a cancelbot attack. The penaltys purpose, said Dennis McClain-Furmansky, is to "mobilize the user base and get them to insist on their ISP to give them a clean feed. Right now they are paying $20 a month for trash."
McClain-Furmansky, speaking on behalf of the Usenet death penalty issuers, explains that, unlike other ISPs such as EarthLink and Bell Atlantic, UUNET has done little or nothing to curb spammers using its service. "The few responses they've made to our complaints have been excuses," he said.
After Bell Atlantic was informed by site administrators several weeks ago that it had been targeted for the Usenet death penalty, the service took immediate action to halt spam, said McClain-Furmansky. "We told them what was being planned, and they are making a clear effort."
McClain-Furmansky said that the action was a drastic measure, but it was a last resort in flood of spam that was "knocking servers offline." On Friday, one of the administrators involved said his system processed 1 million messages for the first time ever. Forty percent of that was spam, 40 percent cancel messages, 20 percent legitimate traffic." About half the cancel messages issued are for spam originating from UUNET dialups, said McClain-Furmansky.
"In my opinion, this is by far the worst censorship action the Net has seen to date," said Dave Hayes, who represents a group called the Freedom Knights, dedicated to "true free speech" on Usenet.
Hayes said the death decreers should be "summarily condemned by all those who are in support of free speech, which unfortunately includes unsolicited advertising."
Brian Moore, a system administrator in the UK who oversees the Usenet feed for his site, said he is not surprised that the action was taken against UUNET. "Amongst the 50-some complaints I have sent them in the past week, I have received nothing but form letters back. The spamming customers continue spamming and there is no indication UUNET has acted in any way at all."
Moore said he has canceled hundreds of porn spams appearing in alt.sexual.abuse.recovery. "Quite frankly, UUNET is irresponsible in their inability to control their own customers," he said.
Referring to a copy of a UUNET-carried spam he forwarded to Wired News, Moore said, "I wonder if they talk about 'sizzling juicy little pussies' at their board meetings and how profitable this spam, the psychic/phone-sex spammers, and the raft of other spam, is."
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More stories written by Mark Frauenfelder