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Microsoft, Amazon Take a Phishing Trip

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2004; 9:38 AM

Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp., the twin peaks of the Seattle area's technology community, are joining forces to attack the tide of spam and fraudulent e-mail messages that clog in-boxes and cause billions of dollars of losses to businesses and consumers. But even when companies with so much clout collaborate on a such a mammoth task, eliminating junk e-mail remains an elusive goal.

The companies sued several suspected spammers and so-called "phishers" -- crooks who lure people to bogus Web sites to snag financial and other data -- for spoofing Amazon.com's domain name for e-mail scams. They also "are collaborating to test possible technical solutions that would make it more difficult to deliver fraudulent and deceptive e-mail to consumers."

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David Zapolsky, Amazon vice president and associate general counsel, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "By suing together, we have a stronger case and potentially more avenues to receive damages." Microsoft's top lawyer Brad Smith said in a statement that the "alliance should be yet another wake-up call for spammers and phishers that the industry is teaming up, pooling resources and sharing investigative information to put them out of business."

That's a lofty goal, and easier said than done. Despite federal and state anti-spam and anti-fraud laws, the rate of abusive e-mail only continues to grow. Consider the evidence.

"Microsoft said that its latest legal initiatives take the total number of cases it has filed around the world since the beginning of last year to 100. Those lawsuits, aimed at stemming the tide of spam and related scams, had already resulted in legal judgments totalling $70m, said Tim Cranton, senior attorney at the software company. Figures from tech research firm IDC, however, suggest that the e-mail deluge continues unabated. Spam now accounts for 38 per cent of all e-mail sent in North America, up from 24 per cent in 2002, according to IDC," the Financial Times reported.

The Wall Street Journal noted: "Over the past year, Microsoft has stepped up its efforts to fight spam and e-mail scams as part of a broader move to stem a range of attacks on its software. The company has had to respond to growing customer complaints about the security of Microsoft applications, prompting the company to release a host of new security software, sign new partnerships, and begin taking more legal action to thwart hackers and senders of spam. Microsoft's anti-spam efforts were dealt a blow this month when a Web technology-standards group rejected a Microsoft-backed 'caller ID' system for e-mail. The group is testing competing technologies."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Microsoft, Amazon.com File Anti-Spam Lawsuit
Financial Times: Amazon, Microsoft In A New Attack On Fraudsters
The Wall Street Journal: Microsoft, Amazon Unite To Battle E-Mail Scammer (Subscription required)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer explained that the Amazon-Microsoft partnership "is a notable link between two companies not always in technological lockstep. Although Amazon has shown public support for Microsoft's next Windows operating system for personal computers, the online retailer is famous in technology circles for using computer servers running the open-source Linux operating system, one of the main competitive threats to Windows." Amazon's Zapolsky told the paper: "On this issue, we're clearly on the same page... It's in everyone's interest to work together to stamp out this kind of conduct."

The companies filed a joint federal lawsuit against a Canadian spam group, "allegedly responsible for sending millions of deceptive e-mail messages, including e-mail forgeries falsely purporting to have come from Amazon.com, Hotmail.com and other domains (a practice called "spoofing"). The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges that Gold Disk Canada Inc., located in Kitchener, Ontario, along with co-defendants including Barry Head and his two sons, Eric and Matthew, mounted illegal and deceptive spamming campaigns that have misused Microsoft's MSN Hotmail services and forged the name of Amazon.com," Microsoft and Amazon said in their joint statement.

Amazon.com and Microsoft also filed three more lawsuits against unnamed defendants for alleged ties to phishing schemes. Microsoft said it also filed its own suit against Leonid Radvinsky and his Chicago-based Activsoft Inc. and Cybertania Inc. and some unidentified defendants, claiming Radvinsky sent millions of deceptive e-mails to Hotmail customers, spoofing Amazon.com's e-mail address.

The Wall Street Journal said Microsoft's joint lawsuit with Amazon.com "is the first time the software giant has worked with an online retailer in its antispam campaign, according to a Microsoft spokesman. In June, Microsoft teamed with Internet providers EarthLink Inc., Time Warner Inc.'s America Online division and Yahoo Inc., to file federal lawsuits against hundreds of alleged spammers."
Bloomberg via the Los Angeles Times: Amazon, Microsoft File Internet Fraud Suits (Registration required)
Case against Canadian operation (PDF)

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