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Major Anti-Spam Lawsuit Filed in Virginia

Roughly 175 Project Honey Pot Web sites located in Virginia have distributed approximately 36,000 e-mail addresses to harvesters worldwide. Of those, 111 e-mail harvesters used Internet addresses located in Virginia, and another 21,000 Virginia-based PCs have been identified as direct sources of junk e-mail. On 245 occasions, the John Does named in the suit have relied entirely on Virginia-based Internet addresses to harvest e-mail addresses and to blast out junk e-mail, the complaint alleges.

Lawrence Baldwin, founder of myNetWatchman, a company that tracks hacking and spam activity, said the Honey Pot Project's legal approach to fighting spam looks promising.

"If they're successful, I think it will yield some very usable information in terms of identifying who the real miscreants are," Baldwin said. "Let's just hope some of them are here in United States and therefore reachable."

The case was filed under the Virginia anti-spam statute, as well as a federal 2003 anti-spam law. The statute penalizes fraudulent senders of unsolicited bulk e-mail at $1 per message, or $25,000 per day that any offending message was transmitted. The federal law, known by its acronym "CAN-SPAM," authorizes fines of $100 for every attempted transmission of a spam message containing false or misleading transmission information. Damages increase three-fold if a victim's e-mail address was harvested from a public Web site.

Despite previous lawsuits against spam operators, the volume of junk e-mail flooding inboxes has skyrocketed over the past several years since CAN-SPAM's enactment. Spam comprised more than 80 percent of the e-mail sent globally over the past six months, according to Postini, an e-mail security firm based in San Carlos, Calif.

"As long as long as there is big money to be made, the spammer's target will move," said Jerry Upton, executive director of the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, an industry consortium of ISPs and e-mail providers. "It's an ongoing war, and the weapons keep getting better on both sides."

The Honey Pot Project's Prince acknowledged that the lawsuit is not going to solve the spam problem.

"But if we can take two or three major spammers offline, that's a huge victory for the Internet as a whole."

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