• United States

Earthlink sues spam, identity theft rings

Aug 27, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalware

EarthLink said Tuesday that it filed suit against two unsolicited commercial (“spam”) e-mail rings with operations in the U.S. and Canada.

The Atlanta, Ga., ISP is suing to recover an estimated $5 million in lost employee productivity and Internet bandwidth that it claims was spent managing more than 250 million e-mail messages sent from e-mail addresses on its network, according to Pete Wellborn, outside legal counsel for EarthLink.

The suit targets two separate spam concerns. The first, based in Birmingham, Ala., is believed to be behind a variety of spam campaigns including pitches for “herbal Viagra,” pornography and online dating services.

The ring used about a dozen Birmingham area phone numbers to connect to more than 100 dial-up EarthLink accounts paid for with phony customer names and addresses. Those accounts were used to send the spam messages, Wellborn said.

A second ring in Vancouver, British Columbia, used around six different phone numbers to connect to EarthLink accounts as part of a massive “phisher” scheme to trick unsuspecting Internet users into passing on sensitive information such as account passwords and credit card numbers, Wellborn said.

Phisher schemes use Web pages designed to look like legitimate Web sites such as and in complicated ruses to capture account information from customers of those sites.

Among other things, the Vancouver spammers used stolen EarthLink accounts to send e-mail messages to AOL members posing as America Online and seeking account information such as user name, password and credit card information, according to EarthLink spokeswoman Carla Shaw.

The suits are important not just because of the problem of spam, but because both spam rings have links to the larger problem of identity theft, according to Shaw.

“These are criminals who have been trying to steal user information,” she said.

In addition, the Alabama spam ring appeared to use a variety of sophisticated technology to conduct their business, Wellborn said.

The spammers have a software-based automatic login system that immediately attempts to reconnect the spammers to EarthLink’s network once an active connection fails.

They are also using dynamically hosted Web sites that appear on the Internet only as long as the spammers are logged in, then disappear once they have logged off, he said.

The transitory nature of the spammers operation is making it especially hard to attach names to EarthLink’s case, Wellborn said.

The suit is just the latest in a wave of legal actions brought by prominent ISPs and online vendors against spammers and unscrupulous online marketers. said Monday that it was filing suit against 11 online marketers, claiming that they misappropriated its name in e-mail solicitations.

In May, Earthlink won a $16 million judgment against a New York man who allegedly sent more than 825 million spam messages through the ISP’s network.

Whereas that case involved one man who was responsible for a large volume of spam messages, the latest cases involve technologically sophisticated gangs of spammers, Wellborn said.

By filing suit against the as-yet unnamed spammers, EarthLink hopes to use subpoenas of ISPs, mailbox rental companies and domain registrars to track down the true identity of the spammers, Shaw said.