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Report From The Front Line
Doing Battle with Spammers

by sandy feet

It all started on Friday the 13th. I logged on, checked my e-mail and discovered the first trickle of what would soon turn into a steady stream of bounced message notifications. Looking at the addresses, I realized they were not messages that I had actually sent, and - even more alarming - the subject of the messages was "penile implants"! The minor annoyance of a box full of returned messages was soon dwarfed by the realization that a far greater number had actually gone through, and that a whole bunch of people were waking up to messages from the webwiz of SPIonline.com suggesting insider knowledge of certain ... inadequacies they may or may not actually have.

Over the past several years, as the Sons of the Beach server administrator for over 100 mostly local web-sites, I have learned a few basic strategies for keeping things running - for the most part - smoothly. But I could tell right away that this time I was _way out of my league and it was time to call in the big guns. Utilizing the 21st century version of flashing the bat signal --- I posted an urgent e-mail to SPI Geek.

"The Geek" is our last, greatest hope in the ongoing war against spam. Armed with only an iBook and terminal access to the SoB server, he typed furiously, muttering dire imprecations as he worked. Within minutes, he was able to discover that someone was using the e-mail directory form on SPIonline.com to send unsolicited advertisements to who knows how many hundreds of unsuspecting souls --in MY name!

Not even a Geek can turn back time and undo the damage already done; but we could at least make sure it didn't happen again. He told me that he'd laid a trap and hard-wired the form so that all the messages would come directly into my mail box. If/when the spammer struck again, we would have everything we need to find out who was doing this.... and respond with "appropriate measures."

What would those measures be? I wondered. He made vague references to a shadowy group of computer security experts who had the means to inflict punishment on guilty parties. "Spammers don't play by the rules, so these guys don't play by the rules either," he said ominously. "Once they have been provided with irrefutable evidence of what these scumbags are doing.... well, let's just say they won't be doing it any more."

The next morning I awoke to no less than 297 messages promising me unlimited access to photos of "gay studs" - all intended for other targets. The Geek pounced, triumphantly pulling in the offending IP number like a prize trophy fish. Another spam window had been slammed shut -- with no chance of it ever being reopened (at least not from that location.) Chalk one up for the good guys!

I'm very lucky - have been spending most of my leisure hours with The Geek for the past year now (he has other - considerable-talents as well) -- and this is not the first time he has saved my bacon. Everyone should have his/her own personal Geek Hero... but if you don't and find yourself in need of a computer security and/or networking expert, a hotshot programmer or just a general trouble-shooter, surf on over to spigeek.com.

He'll be the one wearing the white hat.

There are five (5) ways to submit your questions/comments for future Ask Sandy columns: In person; by phone (761-6222) or fax (761-8930); the US Postal System (box 2694,spi,78597) and E-mail: (sandyfeet@unlitter.com). Visit my web-site (http://spionline.com/) for tips on sandcastling, contest info, recent Ask Sandy columns, and my reviews of local businesses.

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