Screensaver tackles spam websites
Net users are getting the chance to fight back against spam websites
Internet portal Lycos has made a screensaver that endlessly requests data from sites that sell the goods and services mentioned in spam e-mail.
Lycos hopes it will make the monthly bandwidth bills of spammers soar by keeping their servers running flat out.
The net firm estimates that if enough people sign up and download the tool, spammers could end up paying to send out terabytes of data.
"We've never really solved the big problem of spam which is that its so damn cheap and easy to do," said Malte Pollmann, spokesman for Lycos Europe.
"In the past we have built up the spam filtering systems for our users," he said, "but now we are going to go one step further."
Before now users have never had the chance to be a bit more offensive
Malte Pollmann, Lycos
"We've found a way to make it much higher cost for spammers by putting a load on their servers."
By getting thousands of people to download and use the screensaver, Lycos hopes to get spamming websites constantly running at almost full capacity.
Mr Pollmann said there was no intention to stop the spam websites working by subjecting them with too much data to cope with.
He said the screensaver had been carefully written to ensure that the amount of traffic it generated from each user did not overload the web.
"Every single user will contribute three to four megabytes per day," he said, "about one MP3 file."
But, he said, if enough people sign up spamming websites could be force to pay for gigabytes of traffic every single day.
Lycos did not want to use e-mail to fight back, said Mr Pollmann.
"That would be fighting one bad thing with another bad thing," he said.
The sites being targeted are those mentioned in spam e-mail messages and which sell the goods and services on offer.
Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman
Bill Gates is reportedly the world's most spammed person
Typically these sites are different to those that used to send out spam e-mail and they typically only get a few thousand visitors per day.
The list of sites that the screensaver will target is taken from real-time blacklists generated by organisations such as Spamcop. To limit the chance of mistakes being made, Lycos is using people to ensure that the sites are selling spam goods.
As these sites rarely use advertising to offset hosting costs, the burden of high-bandwidth bills could make spam too expensive, said Mr Pollmann.
Sites will also slow down under the weight of data requests. Early results show that response times of some sites have deteriorated by up to 85%.
Users do not have to be registered users of Lycos to download and use the screensaver.
While working, the screensaver shows the websites that are being bothered with requests for data.
The screensaver is due to be launched across Europe on 1 December and before now has only been trialled in Sweden.
Despite the soft launch, Mr Pollmann said that the screensaver had been downloaded more than 20,000 times in the last four days.
"There's a huge user demand to not only filter spam day-by-day but to do something more," he said "Before now users have never had the chance to be a bit more offensive."
Bill Gates 'most spammed person'
Bill Gates 'most spammed person'
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is inundated with up to four million e-mails a day - most of them junk.
However, the software magnate has almost an entire department working to filter out unwanted mails.
The company's chief executive, Steve Ballmer, said Mr Gates was probably the most "spammed" person in the world.
Spam, or junk e-mails, are unsolicited messages often sent indiscriminately, usually trying to sell goods and services from aphrodisiacs to loans.
'Spam will be beaten'
Speaking at a Microsoft event in Singapore, Mr Ballmer said: "Bill Gates (is first) because he is Bill Gates. Bill literally receives four million pieces of e-mail per day, most of it spam."
"Literally there's a whole department almost that takes care of it," he said.
Mr Ballmer said he was "probably also amongst the most spammed people in the world", because he gives out his email address whenever he makes a speech.
But he said only about 10 e-mails a day made it through to his inbox, because of anti-spam technology that filters the messages.
At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January, Mr Gates predicted that technology would make spam "a thing of the past" within two years.
Anti-spam screensaver scrapped
Anti-spam screensaver scrapped
A contentious campaign to bump up the bandwidth bills of spammers by flooding their sites with data has been dropped.
Lycos Europe's Make Love, Not Spam campaign began in late November but its tactics proved controversial.
Lycos has shut down the campaign saying it had been started to stimulate debate about anti-spam measures and had now achieved this aim.
The anti-spammer screensaver came under fire for encouraging vigilante activity and skirting the edge of the law.
Through the Make Love, Not Spam website, users could download a screensaver that would endlessly request data from the net sites mentioned in many junk mail messages.
More than 100,000 people are thought to have downloaded the screensaver that Lycos Europe offered.
The idea was simply to slow spammers' sites and this was achieved by the campaign
Lycos Europe statement
The company wanted to keep the spam sites running at near total capacity to make it much less financially attractive to spammers to operate the sites.
But the campaign was controversial from the moment it kicked off and many net veterans criticised it for using spamming-type tactics against the senders of junk mail.
Some net service firms began blocking access to the Lycos Europe site in protest at the action.
Monitoring firm Netcraft found that the anti-spam campaign was proving a little too successful.
According to response-time figures gathered by Netcraft, some of the sites that the screensaver targeted were being knocked offline by the constant data requests.
In a statement from Lycos Europe announcing the scrapping of the scheme, the company denied that this was its fault.
"There is nothing to suggest that Make Love, Not Spam has brought down any of the sites that it has targeted," it said.
"At the time that Netcraft measured the sites it claims may have been brought down, they were not in fact part of the Make Love, Not Spam attack cycle," it added.
The statement issued by Lycos also said that the centralised database it used ensured that traffic to the target sites left them with 5% spare capacity.
"The idea was simply to slow spammers' sites and this was achieved by the campaign," the company said.
Many security organisations said users should not participate in the Lycos Europe campaign.
The closure comes only days after the campaign was suspended following the outbreak of criticism.