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
    Shun, 18 Jan 2008 @ 5:04pm

    How is this a hack?

    First of all, he was found to have used the "host -l" command. How is this illegal? That he used it without authorization of the owner of the web site owner is irrelevant. If the command can be run over the internet, unless you're doing something that is obviously illegal, it's valid. That the command was "unauthorized" is irrelevant. Am I going to get punished for running a ping or a traceroute? OK, if I SYN flood the site, I can see how that could be considered "not nice" but a simple "host -l" command? Come on.

    I can see how you can get in trouble for publishing information, but is it really private information if it can be obtained so easily? I don't buy the argument that he hacked Sierra's servers. If Sierra can't configure a bloody DNS server, they deserve to be hacked.

    The other thing the court says Ritz did was connect to a couple of sites owned by Sierra. OK, so he visited these web-sites? How is that a crime? Also, does the court have the authority to prevent someone from visiting a web-site?

    I just don't see how this case holds water. If Ritz had done something obviously illegal like intimidate or harass Sierra, I could see where the court had a point. But just gleaning publicly available information from the web and publishing it? This is a ridiculous suit.

    When the court says something like "this is not commonly done" or "a typical internet user would not know how to do these things" it really does betray an ignorance of both technology and the law. You cannot base a ruling on whether or not a "typical" internet user would know how to do such-and-such. You need to base your ruling on:

    1. Were defendant's activities inherently illegal?
    2. Did defendant's activities cause damage to plaintiff?
    3. Was there a tort?

    Defamation only counts if the information published is false. Obviously, what Ritz published was true, or Sierra would not have sought to hide it.

    I really hope Ritz gets a better lawyer for his appeal. Also, I hope this judge gets an earful from someone for basing this decision on such ephemeral pap such as "a typical internet user..."

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