David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 7 Feb 05 08:11
That's interesting about targeting AOL because they were thought to be more receptive. I wonder if that's nerd arrogance showing up as a marketing plan ("those dumb AOL-ers") or if they really tend to be a little more naive, possibly because they're less experienced with the internets?
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Mon 7 Feb 05 08:45
I think many spammers focused on AOL for the simple reason that they got a lot of success there. Davis Hawke's penis-pill customers were almost exclusively AOLers. But I don't think it's simply the "newbie-ness" that makes AOLers prone to buy from spammers. Hakwe and others also had a habit of harvesting email addresses from the eBay site. The theory being that these were people comfortable with doing business online and not afraid to whip out the plastic.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 7 Feb 05 11:53
Why "spam" -- I mean, why is junk email called "spam," Brian? Do you know anything about the origin of this usage?
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Mon 7 Feb 05 15:54
Well, it's because of the Hormel SPAM product, of course. The first use of the term spam to refer to junk email and Usenet messages appeared in late March 1993, after an incident involving a program called ARMM (Automated Retroactive Minimal Moderation). Created by Richard Depew, a system administrator in Ohio, ARMM accidentally posted 200 copies of the same message to the news.admin.policy newsgroup on March 31, 1993. In response, an Internet user in Australia compared the ARMM incident to a comedy routine from the British television series Monty Pythons Flying Circus. First broadcast in 1970, the sketch features two customers at a café who discover that every item on the menu includes Hormels SPAM canned meat. At one point, a group of Vikings enters and loudly sings a song about spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam, drowning out the café customers conversation. There's a good history of the term spam here: http://www.templetons.com/brad/spamterm.html
Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Mon 7 Feb 05 17:15
In my mind, I'm going to call Ed "Berliner" from now on, using my Kennedy voice.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 8 Feb 05 23:16
Brian, it seems from the endnotes to the book that you did a lot of undercover work to learn about Hawke's spam operation, and in fact outed him, opening the door for the lawsuit from AOL. Can you talk about that experience?
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Wed 9 Feb 05 08:53
David, when Hawke kept refusing to talk to me about his business, I signed up as an affiliate using a fake name. That enabled me to see a bit more about how his spam operation worked. On a tip from another affiliate, I also found out that Hawke left all the order logs totally exposed at his web site. So I was able to see the scale of his enterprise and the diverse nature of his customer base. Before I published "Spam Kings," I wrote a couple articles about my findings for Wired News and Salon. I think that may have provided some additional impetus for AOL to sue Hawke. But AOL had plenty of reasons without me. Its members were sending in hundreds of thousands of complaints about Hawke's spams.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 9 Feb 05 10:07
Interesting. So what's it like being an affiliate? Did he send you marketing materials? How much did he try to help you help him make big bucks?
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Wed 9 Feb 05 11:04
Hawke provided affiliates with a variety of HTML and plain-text emails they could send. He also had a list of recommended subject lines for the emails. Every couple of days, he would email a list of proxies to affiliates, through which they could route their spams to avoid detection. Hawke also maintained a site where affiliates could check their sales stats and request commission payments. It was totally insecure. No login required to view the site. Hawke took all sorts of pains to conceal his own identity, but he left other peoples' credit card numbers and addresses in plain view.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 9 Feb 05 13:45
That does seem odd to me. Why would someone who was so careful about his own identity not be more careful about covering all of his tracks? Especially someone who came from the paranoid environment of the white power movement?
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Wed 9 Feb 05 17:21
That puzzled me too. I think Hawke's sloppiness stems from arrogance. The chessplayer and honors student simply thought he was smarter than his opponents. I think he also (wrongly) assumed he wasn't on the radar of anti-spammers. Of course, Hawke is much more vigilant now that he's the central character in a book (and the target of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit). :)
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Thu 10 Feb 05 11:03
Heh. That'd wake me up, too. Do you think that arrogance is a uniting characteristic of both sides of the spam wars? It seems like that might be why they hate each other so much: they're too similar for comfort.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Thu 10 Feb 05 11:45
How so? I've known a lot of people who are passionate about fighting spam, and most of them are system administrators who are at wit's end because spam is ruining their life.
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Thu 10 Feb 05 13:10
I think it's true that some anti-spammers see the spam issue in black and white. Some are very suspicious of attempts to dress up spamming in euphemisms, such as "opt-out marketing." To these folks, any unsolicited commercial email is spam, even if it complies with the federal law. And when mainstream, household-name companies spam, it's particularly offensive to some people. Similarly, there's been some controversy in the anti-spamming community over spam fighters who have crossed over and gone to work for email advertisers. "Spam Kings" gets into the stories of Karen Hoffmann and Kelly Molloy, both of whom start off fighting spam but end up consulting to email advertisers. Both seemed to believe they could solve the problem from the inside. Hoffmann became especially bitter at her former anti-spammer friends who abandoned her. She could have been as asset, but they cut her off, saw her as a traitor.
Public persona (jmcarlin) Thu 10 Feb 05 13:21
> dress up spamming in euphemisms, such as "opt-out marketing." To me 'opt-out' is a euphemism. 'opt-in' is legitimate. If I choose to receive ads, that's up to me. I would accept opt-out if it were like the government telemarketing registry and any spammers who abused it were "hung by the neck until dead" but I don't see that as likely. I can see the suspicion about people who work for email people. But I would personnally differentiate honest people making honest attempts to get 'on the side of the angels' or selling out. I would try to keep an open mind.
Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Thu 10 Feb 05 18:54
I agree that many of the anti-spammers tend too see things as too black and white -- but I also think that things usually *are* pretty much black and white. For me, it comes down to: any unsolicited email I get trying to sell me something is spam, and therefore, is bad. There's no comparison between spammers and anti-spammers. Spammers are scumbags. They are lowbrow types who would be running some other kind of fraud if spam didn't exist. There are various types (chickenboners, unctuous salesman types, disingenuous schemers who pretend they are doing all they can to no be annoying, etc. But they are all scumbags.) Anti-spammers are often shrill and obnoxious zealots, but they aren't trying to pull one over on anybody. It's a whole different personality type and they operate on a whole different motive.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Fri 11 Feb 05 07:22
Does the book get into stock-promoting spam? Are stock spams basically a pump and dump scam with the pumping occurring via email? I've always assumed that that was the case.
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Fri 11 Feb 05 10:31
Rafe, "Spam Kings" tell the story of Rodona Garst, who was busted by the SEC a few years back for running pump-and-dumps via spam. But her story also illustrates the militant tactics sometimes used by anti-spammers. Garst's computer was hacked by an anti, who posted the hard drive contents on the Internet, including semi-naked photos of Garst, along with incriminating ICQ chat logs. For the gory details, see http://elias.rhi.hi.is/premier.cluelessfucks.com/index2.htm
Public persona (jmcarlin) Fri 11 Feb 05 11:29
Brian, What do you feel about stories like this? http://www.technewsworld.com/story/news/40524.html Microsoft, Pfizer File Lawsuits over Viagra Spam Do you think such lawsuits going to have any meaningful impact on spam?
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Fri 11 Feb 05 12:29
Well, lawsuits are an important arrow in the quiver. But as long as spam is profitable, new spammers will take the place of guys who get sued out of business. As for this specific lawsuit, I don't expect it will have a perceptible impact on the amount of Viagra spam we receive. Seems that Pfizer's main concern in the lawsuit is cutting off unathorized sales of *generic* Viagra. (They also sued 30 sites last August for selling generic Viagra.) I wonder if they'd be as aggressive about suing spammers of brand-name Viagra.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 11 Feb 05 14:40
The whole effort to stop spammers seems like an impossible game of Whack-a- Mole. Bop one on the head and another one pops up over ---> there. As you say, Brian, as long as there's money to be made, there's no real way to put a halt to it without putting other limitations on the 'Net that most of us would not tolerate. This has been a fascinating discussion. It's hard to believe that two weeks have flown by already. I want to thank you, Brian, for joining us here in Inkwell, and for writing the book in the first place. And thanks to you, David, for so ably leading the conversation. This thread will remain here indefinitely, and if you want to continue talking, please feel free to do so. Even though our virtual spotlight has turned to new guests, we're more than happy to have multiple conversations going on here. Also, I understand you have something new in the works, Brian, so maybe you might need to get back to that. However, I hope you have time to tell us a bit about it before you sign off.
one big petri dish (jnfr) Fri 11 Feb 05 14:41
Wonderful topic. Thanks for talking with us, Brian.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Fri 11 Feb 05 15:32
Thanks, Brian, for your insight into this world, and thanks to everyone who joined in the discussion. Anyone want my fake rolex?
Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Fri 11 Feb 05 16:22
David, I'm a Timex type of guy, but thanks anyway. :) It was *my* pleasure to be Inkwell's guest. Thanks everyone for your great questions and comments. In case anyone wants to keep jabbering about spam and/or "Spam Kings," I promise to check in here regularly. Or feel free to visit my spam blog, http://www.spamkings.biz. Regarding that new project in the works, it's a book with the inside story of another Net-noir subculture: the organized criminal gangs who run sites like Shadowcrew.com and CarderPlanet.net. With the help of a key insider, I'll be providing a behind-the-scenes view of some major Internet phishing scams, break-ins, and extortion plots -- as well as law-enforcement efforts to shut them down.
one big petri dish (jnfr) Fri 11 Feb 05 17:07
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