September 26 2017, updated 11:42pm

Journalist beat authorities to alleged spammers - BBC

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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A British radio journalist and a Danish geek beat professional investigators in New Zealand to the home of an alleged "spammer" in Christchurch.

Radio 4 journalist Simon Cox, in Britain, was investigating the source of spam promoting penis enlargement pills being sold for $US70, when he tracked down the New Zealander involved, the BBC reported.

In a bid to track down the elusive figures sending him spam e-mails, he clicked on the Elite Herbal website, described by Richard Cox of the internet monitoring organisation Spamhaus as the world's biggest spammer sending unsolicited junk mail on the internet.

"They are probably one of the most intense spam operations on the internet today," said Richard Cox, who called them an "absolute pest".

The initial e-mail had been sent by woman at a library in Florida, who turned out not to exist, and the website had been registered in China but with fake contact information.

"So instead, I decided to follow the money," said the journalist. His credit card payment for the Manster pills was processed by a website based in India but he was not the only amateur detective on the trail.

Henrik Uffe Jensen, an IT consultant from Denmark turned the tables on the company, placing request for pills, with a tiny piece of software hidden in the order form.

This allowed him to see the location and the unique IP address of the internet user accessing his order – one of which was in New Zealand.

"We found out the computer was in the south island of New Zealand," Simon Cox reported. "We also knew Vodafone was providing its internet service.

"We knew where the alleged spammer lived and it didn't take long for us to find out his name. He denied the claims when contacted and the matter is now being dealt with by authorities in New Zealand."

"We contacted Vodafone and after some checks they confirmed it was the spammer.

"The customer was sending the spam but not directly from his account," said a spokesman for Vodafone.

"He ‘hid' behind a number of other slave or zombie computers, making identifying his activities somewhat more difficult.

The investigation was followed by New Zealand's first anti-spam operation, in which the Internal Affairs Department's anti-spam unit executed four search warrants simultaneously, seizing 22 computers and boxes of documents from four Christchurch addresses.

Anti-spam investigators interviewed two Christchurch businessmen as part of the operation, the result of two-months of work with international agencies, Internal Affairs deputy secretary Keith Manch said.

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They are now checking allegations the business organised people across the world to send spam on its behalf, using junk mail to offer watches and pharmaceutical products.

Mr Manch said that after the BBC published it news report the NZ unit had to move quickly to capture evidence supporting the spamming allegations, obtaining search warrants and mobilising search teams.

New Zealand's anti-spam law, the Unsolicited Electronic Messages (UEM) Act, took effect in September. The maximum penalties for sending spam – unsolicited, commercial, electronic messages – include a fine of $500,000 for an organisation or $200,000 for a person.

Internet NZ executive director Keith Davidson said the raid illustrated the importance of the Act, and congratulated the anti-spam unit for "investigating and raiding what appears to be a sophisticated New Zealand-based international spam operation.

"New Zealand-based spammers can no longer act with impunity," said Mr Davidson.


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