- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

The United States produces more unwanted e-mail than all other nations combined, despite predictions that many spammers would move overseas to avoid recently enacted antispam laws.

U.S.-based spammers are responsible for more than 56 percent of the spam sent worldwide, according to Sophos, a British antispam company with major offices near Boston.

“The United States is far and away the worst offender,” said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos.

The figures blow a hole in arguments by critics of antispam legislation, who predicted that recent laws would be hard to enforce because many of the worst offenders simply would pack up and move overseas.

It was a common refrain after the Jan. 1 enactment of the Can-Spam act, the nation’s first federal antispam law, which bans the most deceptive kinds of spam.

Spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mail, often features ads for pornography, mortgage scams or prescription drugs, and accounts for more than half of all e-mail sent worldwide. It costs businesses tens of billions of dollars each year in services and lost productivity.

Some spam researchers have reported that foreign-generated spam has increased since the Can-Spam act took effect. Sterling, Va.-based AOL, the world’s largest Internet service provider, noticed a 10 percent increase in the amount of spam coming from overseas this year.

But most analysts agree that spammers — who operate on very thin profit margins — have a greater chance of financial success by remaining in the United States.

Even those that move overseas are likely to maintain business partners or computer equipment in the United States. AOL recently filed suit against several purported spammers, including a U.S. citizen working in Thailand who the company said masterminded an international spam ring.

Several people involved in the ring are based in Florida, a hotbed for spamming activity. Eight of the world’s 10 worst spammers operate out of the United States, including three originally from Florida, according to the Spamhaus Project, a British nonprofit that publishes information about spammers.

Uncovering the origin of spam is not easy. An increasing amount of unwanted messages is coming from U.S.-based computers that have been hijacked by spammers working overseas. Russia is still considered a major distributor of spam.

But legal experts said the origins of spam might be irrelevant because the Can-Spam act allows law enforcement to go after not only the spammer, but also the company advertised in the e-mail messages. Most of those companies have operations in the United States.

“You can’t sell herbal Viagra from Kazakhstan, because you can’t fill out the orders,” said Matthew Prince, a lawyer and founder of Unspam, a Chicago company that advises governments on spam.

“It really doesn’t matter where the person hitting the send button is; the easier person to go after is the person selling the product.”

It is still possible, however, that such companies will relocate entirely overseas, according to some experts. Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker and owner of the MSN Internet and Hotmail e-mail services, says that as much as 70 percent of businesses that send spam could be run entirely outside the United States.

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