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KnujOn takes the spam fight to the enemy

By Neil Roiter

Garth Bruen is on a mission–to bring spammers down. His KnujOn project, (“no junk” backwards, pronounced “noo-jon”) hit a milestone this week, claiming 50,000 spam sites put out of business.

“Filtering and blocking tactics are failing,” says Bruen. “It’s actually making the problem worse. Even if 90 percent of the messages are being filtered, the small percentage that aren’t keeps them in business.”

For example, a Consumer Reports survey published in September estimated that 650,000 people had purchased products or services offered via spam in a single month.

KnujOn analyzes messages sent by individual subscribers (for a $25 fee) and works through ISPs and businesses whose sites are being counterfeited to close down the spammers. It takes grunt work that most people aren’t willing or have the time to do, and most businesses aren’t inclined to be proactive, Bruen says, because they still aren’t sufficiently alarmed at the threat to their brand.

“We fill out lots and lots of paperwork,” Bruen says. “Most of these sites are violating laws and agreements. If you push the right buttons, they’ll take it down.”

Businesses generally see losses from spam-based crime as a cost of doing businesses, much as have with more conventional crime, like shoplifting. That will change as the losses mount.

“The amount of money is growing and will affect a company’s bottom line in more serious ways,” he says.

His subscribers see a significant drop in spam, he says, as spammers regard them as problems. “We make so much trouble for the people pushing junk, that they block the clients from their lists.

He has presented at a number of cybercrime conferences, but spam isn’t a priority for law enforcement. Local officials aren’t in a position to deal with it; the feds are focused on gut issues like child pornography and reluctant to get heavily involved in spam because of concern over privacy issues.

KnujOn, Bruen says, is part of a long-term solution to a long-term problem. Meanwhile is even 50,000 sites making a dent? Is this another example of playing cyber-Whack-a Mole? Yes, he says, because spammers need a permanent home in domains that register and pay for, and invest a lot in their sites. Besides…..

“Well, you know, you can cheat at Whack-a-Mole. If you get down to eye level, you can see them before they pop up.”

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