Michael Wolraich's picture

    Spam War!

    You may not know it, but war is blazing away on the Internet. Perhaps you've experienced some streaming delays on Netflix or Youtube recently. You may have been caught in the crossfire.

    One of the combatants is a Dutch web-hosting company called Cyberbunker. The company's home page cycles a picture of Julian Assange with the caption, "Freedom of speech...is in the eye of the beholder." But they're quick to assure potential clients that Cyberbunker is not some kind of idealistic anarchist commune. Like all good capitalists, Cyberbunker puts the customer first.

    "Even though we're located in a secretive nuclear bunker, rebuking authorities regarding the rights of individuals, that doesn't mean we're cold and non-communicative to our clients," the website promises. "We hold the highest esteem for your business."

    Indeed, they hold the highest esteem for almost every kind of business "except child porn and anything related to terrorism." Pirate Bay, the world's largest BitTorrent file-sharing site, is one of their clients. Cyberbunker's owners do not mind that the Netherlands and most other European countries have blocked Pirate Bay because of copyright violations.

    But that's not what the war is about. The war is about spam.

    Unlike Cyberbunker, Spamhaus is a not-for-profit organization. Its investigators in London and Geneva have been tracking spam and malware operators since 1988. They publish a spammer blacklist, which they distribute free to small companies and non-commercial sites. Large corporations pay a few cents per user per year, which helps them protect their customers from spam.

    Dagblog.com is both small and non-commercial. We've been fighting spam ever since the blog's founding with help from organizations like Spamhaus. A couple years ago, our filters began catching some unusual spam comments. These anonymous comments did not hawk plagiarized essays or fashion rip-offs. Instead, they proclaimed, "Spamhaus a bunch of liars and criminals - Spreads slander about isps and their customers." The spammers tried to share this message with dagblog readers over and over and over. Hundreds of thousands of those comments still hang around at other sites. Google it.

    It seems that Spamhaus had pressured Cyberbunker's ISP to stop hosting spammers, phishers, and malware distributors. Somebody wasn't happy about it. There is good money in spam, but of course profit was the furthest thing from their minds. This was about freedom of speech. In order to defend the right of Cyberbunkers' customers to sell whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want, they spammed dagblog and many, many others.

    Last week, Spamhaus finally blacklisted Cyberbunker itself. That's when the war escalated. Hackers launched the largest DDoS attack in history, temporary silencing Spamhaus and its allies. The attack was so large that it interrupted service from unrelated providers like Netflix.

    Cyberbunker spokesman Sven Olaf Kamphuis acknowledged that his company was behind the attack. "Nobody ever deputized Spamhaus to determine what goes and does not go on the Internet," he complained. "They worked themselves into that position by pretending to fight spam."

    In other words, Spamhaus had the audacity to accuse Cyberbunker of profiting from spammers...who were in turn profiting from companies that profit from copyright violations and academic cheating...and doing so in a way that interferes with ordinary people exchanging ideas on the web for no money whatsoever. And for this offense, Cyberbanker took it upon itself to silence Spamhaus, to literally stop the organization from publishing. I guess freedom of speech is in the eye of the beholder.

    So don't be fooled by Cyberbunker's anti-authority pose. This is not some grassroots political protest or hacktivist insurgency. Cyberbunker's profiteers do not want free speech. They want unfettered capitalism so that they and their clients can make money without regard to the harm they produce. This is about greed. The rest is sham.



    Thank you.

    I still have probs with the definition of spam, but I kind of get it.

    I think of pop ups as spam. My Lord you cannot get to an article at Salon without two or three popups popping up as it were and when you attempt to hit the x you end up reading some damn advertisement on another tab and sometimes the damn thing starts yelling at me.

    I recall TPM Cafe well. We would receive these 'comments' attempting to sell us stuff.

    The Chinese ads were hilarious at times since the English was just terrible. Q showed me one one time and I had to give the 'commenter' a Dayly Award. hahahaha

    Is a pop up spam? How about ads on the side of a blog site that will 'attack' you with seemingly no provocation from your mouse at all?


    Those pop-ups aren't spam, though they are annoying. Spammers go for volume. They spread advertising messages as widely as possible wherever they have a free platform like email inboxes, blogs, and forums.

    Dagblog gets slammed with spam comments hundreds of times a day. It's been a huge pain, but I've managed to shut them down. Maybe I'll write about it sometime.

    I usually report spam as inappropriate when I come across it in comment threads.  Is my report annoying to web administrators?  Should I just ignore it or is it helpful? Any thoughts?


    Yeah the free speech argument here is most irritating. It's really an argument for anarachy and chaos. Because the internet is set up so that anyone can create their own website, including to promote their own opinions or to advertise their own products or services, or even to provide a completely freewheeling open forum that welcomes spam if that's what they happen to desire.

    But they are arguing that we should all be able to invade and use other people's websites any time we want, to use and abuse the fruit of someone else's labor, in countries where no one is stopping them from creating their own web domain with it's own rules or none.

    Sure, all of this can lead into the problematic intellectual property morass if you want it to. But it's bogus to do that, it's a "burn the village to save it" argument.

    There are many genuine advocates of internet freedom (or chaos or anarchy, depending on how you style it), but I don't count Cyberbunker among them. They're for freedom the way the old railroad tycoons were for freedom--freedom from interference in their pursuit of profits and freedom to crush whoever gets in their way.

    I share your irritation AA, but I think it's more that the free speech argument is being used to justify something other than free speech.

    The internet, as you point out, is everywhere and available to everyone.  It creates issues about free speech and privacy property, and the meaning of both concepts, that we could not imagine even 25 years ago.  But the problem is exacerbated by these profit-seeking bottom feeders who lead with free speech to the detriment of those who could only wish for that freedom. 

    I've not figured out how we can balance "private" websites on the internets with free speech, but I think it's going to be something that we're going to hear more and more about going forward.


    I am not even sure what this means but I hereby render unto NCD the Dayly Line of the Day for this here Dagblog Site, given to all of you from all of me.


    Don't need no internet or streaming video if u got the DVD, thanks for the award!

    It should be noted out that spammers are often criminals, and not in the pejorative sense, where 'because I hate spammers, they are criminals' or 'because they violate CAN-SPAM (or some other anti-spam legislation) they are criminals'...but because they are, or are supported by, crime committing organizations.

    In the case of Cyberbunker, it's a type of criminal activity that is cloaked (like a wolf wearing a sheep-skin) in the garment of capitalism.  IOW, it's not free speech - it's free crime.

    And that definition of crime does include national actors, like China, and includes the U.S. IMO.

    Network abuse is, in my experience, the term of art. It does not matter what entity abuses the network, nor does their purpose have relevance; ergo, the distribution of Stuxnet is abusive, just like the Chinese cracking of pretty much every network on the planet is abusive, just like the penny-stock spams are abusive.

    People used to say 'the internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it'; I wonder what sort of response it will have to abuse of itself.

    Me, I'm hoping something like outcome in Rule 34 is applied to network abusers.

    Thanks for the book link, I'm starting it right now.

    Oh and yes to everything else you wrote too.

    That's interesting, chthonic. Do you have a link about the criminal connection?

    For starters, there is ROKSO, which is at Spamhaus:

    The Register of Known Spam Operations (ROKSO) database collates information and evidence on known professional spam operations that have been terminated by a minimum of 3 Internet Service Providers for spam offenses.

    Random choices:

    Fujiko Kobayashi is a "deai" or dating spammer in Japan. Such spam tends to cross the boundary into pornographic images and may also be related to prostitution controlled by organized crime. This spammer is hitting cell phones very heavily with unsolicited text/SMS messages.

    Alex Blood / Alexander Mosh / AlekseyB / Alex Polyakov:

    Verimer-australia.com is the money laundering part of phishing scams.

    Pavka / Artofit ROKSO Records: child porn payment processors

    But if you are asking about known criminal syndicates, AKA mafia type organizations, I suggest Brian Krebs' work. He's recognized, and credible; he'll have something in his articles.

    A quick sample:



    Does this answer your question?

    Thanks, cthtonic and tmccarthy. I was thinking of spam as opposed to malware. They're related, and Spamhaus has accused Cyberbunker of hosting both, but I was focused on the spam. It would be interesting if criminals were also involved in the spam business.

    Phishing is performed via spam. While it can be targeted, it's commonly via spam; it's commonly directed at financial institutions; the stolen money is then laundered, commonly by money mules.

    That set of activities is one way to define a criminal syndicate.

    WRT to malware, yes it may have moved to 'surf a website and get hijacked' to some large degree; but spam is still used to propagate malware.

    I thought these were common knowledge?

    Zeus is a well know malware used by a large criminal enterprise, sometimes referred to as the cyber mafia. In March of last year. Zeus steals credit card or banking information from unsuspecting users. It is definitely connected to a crime syndicate.

    Thanks for the information.  I have noticed a break in streaming from Youtube.  I watch a movie or other stuff on it every night.  I thought it was part of the crack down that Verizon is now doing.  There has been alot of confusion as to what can be veiwed and this cyber war just adds to it.  I lose a stream and I think "oops, did I just break a law?"

    To be honest, I threw Youtube in there somewhat speculatively because I also experienced lag, but I didn't find anyone mentioning any site other than Netflix. Given Maiello's link below, I wonder if Netflix ended up in the story the same way. Maybe someone just blamed the performance problems on the DDoS attack, and the rest of the media echoed it.

    Not that it affects any of the philosophical issues at play here but Gizmodo, which originally reported the Internet war story, now says it never happened and isn't happening.

    The ultimate issue of the health of the commons remains, though.  Even if this attack never happened, somebody will figure out how to do it some day.  What worries me most about the future of the Internet, though, is the rise of gated communities like Facebook and Apple's iTunes and App store -- these places have definite standards and that are imposed from up high and not really up for debate.

    Not to get too meta but, in a way, Dag is also a gated community.  We have standards, mods and limited tolerance for that which would otherwise disrupt the discussion.  Of course, we are wiser than the Apple and Facebook overlords.

    Our Netflix did grind to a halt last Saturday evening, with about twenty minutes left in an episode of Foyle's War. We couldn't reconnect. Occasionally two or three of us are on laptops while streaming, but that night we were alone.

    Ha. I wouldn't be that surprised. The explanation for how this DDoS flooded into Netflix didn't quite make sense. Perhaps there was an unrelated slowdown.

    That said, this guy didn't seem to have followed up with Akamai's chief architect, who also attested to disruptive effects.

    When I was working at the Univ. one of my responsibilities was the campus mail server.  I had that sucker locked down 8 ways to Sunday using Postfix and a lot of my own code.

    I also did networking and had no problem blocking entire class B networks. One of the first was Sanford "Spamford" Wallace. He called me up and was really pissed. I told him that this was a state university and we had no obligation to accept connections of anything else from any commercial site, especially his.


    "Don't make me angry. You won't like me when I'm angry."

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