U.S. Court Order Could Boost Spam By 50 Billion Daily
A September decision by a federal court may mean more spam hitting inboxes, an analyst said Wednesday.
Last month, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled in favor of e-mail marketing company e360insight, and ordered U.K.-based Spamhaus, a non-profit anti-spam organization, to pay $11.7 million in damages. e360insight had argued that the Spamhaus blacklist -- a database of spammers and suspected spammers that is widely used by spam filtering services and software -- erroneously included its domain. Spamhaus did not contest the case, but has refused to pay the fine, issue an apology, or remove e360insight from the blacklist.
The fear, said Richi Jennings, an analyst with messaging research company Ferris Research, is that the judge will next order ICANN (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers), the U.S.-based organization which manages domain names, to strip Spamhaus of its domain in an attempt to force the company to comply.
"In the short term, any spam filter that relies on Spamhaus' blacklist will have a problem with its accuracy," said Jennings. "But I don't think it will come to that. Spamhaus will either find a way to make sure that U.S. law can't touch them, or some other group will step in to fill the hole."
Spamhaus itself has said the U.S. court has no jurisdiction, stands by its categorization of e360insight as a spammer, and remained defiant at the news of a possible domain stripping.
"We think it can not actually happen, due to the effect it would have both on the Internet and on millions of users," Spamhaus said in a statement posted on its Web site Tuesday.
Spamhaus claimed that its blacklist blocks 50 billion spam messages daily. "The effect of suddenly not blocking such a large amount of spam would mean that volume of unwanted junk hitting mail server queues all over the world. The effect of 650 million email boxes suddenly receiving a barrage of illegal spam, scams, and bank phishes is extremely dangerous. For this reason alone we believe that ICANN suspending spamhaus.org is almost certainly a no-starter."
ICANN also issued a statement Tuesday, saying even if it was ordered, it had no authority to de-list Spamhaus' domain. "Even if ICANN were properly brought before the court in this matter, which ICANN has not been, ICANN cannot comply with any order requiring it to suspend or place a client hold on Spamhaus.org or any specific domain name because ICANN does not have either the ability or the authority to do so," the group said in an online posting.
"Only the Internet registrar with whom the registrant has a contractual relationship, and in certain instances the Internet registry, can suspend an individual domain name," ICANN continued.
Spamhaus' domain is registered with Tucows, which is based in Toronto, Canada. Tucows was not available for comment on whether it would comply with a U.S. court order, if one is issued.
If that happens, said Jennings of Ferris Research, users will be the ones to feel the pain, not Spamhaus.
"There's the possibility that this will scare people off running blacklists in the future," said Jennings.
He also argued that if Spamhaus and its blacklist were to "go dark," it might kick up even more talk by other countries and international organizations to "wrest control of the Internet from the United States." Such efforts have included proposals that the United Nations administer the Internet, and has grown out of frustration with some ICANN decisions, such as its May rejection of the .xxx top-level domain.
Spamhaus suggested that if push came to shove, the all-volunteer organization would simply give up rather than continue to defy the U.S. judge.
"The reality is that if Spamhaus gets around the court order by switching domain to maintain the blocking, the judge would very likely then rule us in criminal contempt," the group said. "We don't want a criminal record for the sake of fighting spam. We normally help fit the spammers with criminal records, not the other way round."
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