Anti-Spammer Fined For DNS Lookup Of Spammer

from the ouch dept

Anti-spam activists often need to do quite a bit of hunting to track down the real identity of various spammers. Over the years, spammers have become increasingly adept at hiding from those trying to shine light on their activities. However, when one well-known anti-spammer used some standard whois and DNS lookup tools (the same kind many of us use every day) to find out the identity of a spammer, the spammer sued him... and won! The anti-spammer has to pay over $60,000 in fines, and possibly much more once lawyers' fees are added up. The judge ruled that some rather basic tools suddenly constituted "hacking" even though the details don't suggest any actual hacking. The anti-spammer simply used the tools available to get the information necessary. He didn't need to break through any security or do anything malicious to get the info. If you read the ruling, it sounds like a judge could define plenty of perfectly normal online activities as "hacking." Update: There's a good discussion in the comments, suggesting that there's a lot more going on here than is clear from the article itself. The judge's finding of facts suggest that the anti-spammer did some questionable things, including lying and ignoring an injunction -- which certainly hurt his case. However, others are suggesting that the judge's finding of facts are incorrect and there's much more to this story that will come out on appeal.

Filed Under: anti-spam, fines

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  1. identicon
    Super Anonymous Ultra Coward, 18 Jan 2008 @ 2:17pm

    Dog Pile!!

    Let's all pile on to the "how stupid is stupid" dog pile, and maybe elbo someone here and there.

    OK, so I'm at the bottom of the list and will probably not get read, however, as far as I can tell there are a number of issues that posters have gotten wrong:

    1) This is a District Court Ruling, and as far as I can tell it is not an officially "published" ruling. There's little to suggest that this will be considered as actual, citable "precedent", kinda like Dubbya. There isn't even any significant opining on the part of the Judge as to interpretation of the law, so it would be difficult to use as "precedent" unless the facts are practically identical. If this were an Appelate Court ruling, then I'd be more concerned.

    2) I can see only one (OK, er, maybe 3 if you don't cut the Judge any I'm-not-a-Geek slack) "misunderstanding" of technology in the ruling. However, none of it seems material to the outcome. In otherwords, even if the Judge got some of the technology concepts wrong, I don't see how it would have changed her ruling.

    3) Ritz is alleged to have done a lot more than make a "DNS query" that was deemed either illegal or from which he had been enjoined. Furthermore it seems that he did so deliberately and knowingly. I don't have the transcripts, nor will I as they appear to have been sealed. Unless the allegations are false, it does appear that Ritz acted like a common criminal hacker especially after being barred from doing so.

    4) The legality of doing a DNS query was never at issue:

    "2. The Court need not determine whether a normal, signle DNS query is authorized within the meaning of the Statute [...]"

    Nor is there really a question as to whether a DNS Zone Transfer per se is illegal. If Ritz had claimed, which he seems to not have done, that the Sierra DNS servers were in fact public-facing DNS servers desinged to propagate Sierra DNS information, I believe the outcome from his DNS Zone Transfer request may have been different; however, Sierra seems to have clamed that those were private DNS servers (presumably for use from solely within the Sierra network), and therefore NOT public-facing.

    I still think that people should be allowed to beat the executives of Sierra senseless with a padded wiffle-bat if they are in fact spammers, but that's another story.

    I do have a hard time resisting a good dog-pile, but I just can't see where the Judge is being stupid.


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