by: Michael Schultz, Associate Editor, MTTLR
You (or your IT staff) may have been thankful to find that spam traffic has been a bit lighter in the last few weeks, after the recent shutdown of a major spam hub that, by some estimates, was responsible for as much as 75 percent of the world’s junk mail. You might have expected the company facilitating all of that spam – not to mention illegally gathered credit card information and child pornography – would have chosen to operate from the relative obscurity of an offshore hosting service. Instead, McColo Corporation set up shop in San Jose, California in a “top-level modern […] IT center.” To be clear, McColo is merely the “virtual host” for those that are actually sending the spam; something akin to a landlord of an apartment building in which most, if not all, of the apartments are being used for illegal activity.
In an interesting twist, it wasn’t U.S. authorities that shut down the hub – instead the companies that provided internet connection for McColo decided to cut ties. This leaves open the possibility of McColo finding another internet provider – or the individual sites being hosted by McColo to disperse, making them harder to track and shut down. In fact, only two weeks after the shutdown, spam levels are reported to already be back to two-thirds of their previous levels.
Brian Krebs of the Washington Post, who is credited with the initial investigation and breaking the story, writes that “Multiple security researchers have recently published data naming McColo as the host for all of the top robot networks or "botnets," which are vast collections of hacked computers that are networked together to blast out spam or attack others online. These include SecureWorks, FireEye and ThreatExpert.” According to Mr. Krebs, “[what is] unclear is the extent to which McColo could be held legally responsible for the activities of the clients for whom it provides hosting services. There is no evidence that McColo has been charged with any crime, and these activities may not violate the law.”
So what is the law (and what should it be?) in this murky, seedy area of the internet? Below is a roundup of various links that may help to address that question:
FBI wants widespread monitoring of ‘illegal’ Internet activity
Illegal Internet Activity a Growing Concern for Enterprise Organizations
Using the Law to Address Illegal Activity on the Internet
Employer responsibility to report illegal activities established by Court
FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center