Microsoft more than software: Catching Spammers

Spam is a real pain, and it’s only increasing. Fortunately, most of it is caused by only a few hundred at most professional spammers. Microsoft, the FBI, the Direct Marketing Association (ironically enough) and others are working to stop spam from the source.

The NY Times offers an inside look at how spam catchers (one a former US Marshal hunting escaped prisoners) catch spammers.
Microsoft gets slammed for having terrible licensing policies, software full of security holes, bugs in software and being too expensive – and there’s a bit of truth in all of this but a lot of things I could say in MS’ favor also.
HOWEVER, one thing that money does let MS do, is hunt for spammers which helps us all.
The NY Times writes Sterling McBride spends a lot of time waiting for spammers to make a mistake. They usually do.
When he hunted down escaped prisoners for the United States Marshals Service, Mr. McBride learned the value of lying low until fugitives trip up, leaving small clues on their whereabouts. Now, as an investigator for Microsoft, Mr. McBride watches carefully for tidbits of data that link some of the two billion pieces of junk e-mail that Microsoft’s Hotmail service receives each day with the people who send them.
Once he finds an electronic key to the spammer’s identity – a real name, address or phone number – Mr. McBride uses all the tools of a regular detective: trailing suspects, subpoenaing their bank records and looking for disgruntled former associates to become informers. But first he must lift the cloak of anonymity provided by the Internet.
“The guys who do this are pretty tenacious,” Mr. McBride said. “There are networks that are very well organized. But we have really started to figure out how they operate.”
Spammers have been sending more junk e-mail than ever, despite a new federal antispam law that took effect Jan. 1. So far, few have been brought into court because it is hard to find them and link them to electronic offers of pills and pornography.