The University Record, February 18, 1998

Hucka out to stop unsolicited e-mail at the source

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Mike Hucka hates spam.

No, he's not opposed to canned luncheon meat. He's opposed to unsolicited computer e-mail, euphemistically referred to in the computer world as "spam." "Unlike junk mail that comes in paper form, unsolicited computer e-mail spammers are abusing the network and not bearing the cost of disseminating their advertisement," he says. "Instead, he has forced you, and other organizations responsible for the networks of computers, to subsidize this advertising."

Hucka, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has good reason for the way he feels. He has been the subject, at least peripherally, of what he calls an e-mail bombing attack, has been contacted by the FBI and has received thousands of bounced and reply messages to e-mail he didn't send.

Hucka was one of several people who sent a reply to the source of an advertisement for laser/fax toner cartridges and copies of his response to the service providers along the return route for that message. He told the sender and the service providers that he objected to unsolicited e-mail, asked to be removed from the list and said he considered unsolicited mail to be an abuse of network resources.

Last September, Hucka was included in a retaliation e-mail "bombing" that forged his return address on thousands of messages sent out advertising things like the toner cartridge scam, sex sites and sex paraphernalia. Thousands of bounced messages and more than a few angry replies clogged his mailbox. He was contacted by the FBI and inundated with e-mail.

"One recipient even mailed my lab director complaining of my involvement in spamming and a [non-existent] sex site," Hucka notes.

But none of this has stopped him in his fight against what he strongly feels is a misuse of network resources. Although the Information Technology Division recommends that no replies be sent to mail of this type, Hucka follows these steps:

"I reply to the sender of the message and also cc: my reply to the abuse@ and postmaster@ addresses derived from the mail servers that appear to have been connected to the originating site. My reply is a form letter that expresses my displeasure at receiving unsolicited advertisements and points out that they are an abuse of network privileges. I include the full text of the original message with full message headers. I also cc: my reply to the Federal Trade Commission.

"I post the message to the newsgroup 'news.admin.net-abuse.sightings' following the advice given on the site www.tezcat.c om/~gbyshenk/ive.been.spammed.html.

"If it looks like it may be a pyramid scheme or a chain letter or something involving credit cards, I also forward a copy of the message to the Federal Trade Commission or the National Fraud Info Center."

Two other places to report suspected fraud are www.fraud.org/internet/in tset.htm and www.junkemail.org/scamspam.

Hucka is out to stop the flow of computer junk mail, not to filter it or label it.

"It doesn't matter that an e-mail message has a subject header containing, say, the word 'advertisement.' If you're filtering out messages on that keyword, you have to receive the message in the first place in order to perform the filtering. The damage is done-the sender has not paid the full cost of the advertisement. Instead, you, as the recipient, have paid part of the cost.

"It's just plain wrong."