Alleged spam king Soloway charged with fraud

A man, thought to be one of the internet's most prolific spammers, is in custody after being charged under new anti-spam laws in the US.

Robert Alan Soloway, 27, is currently being held without bail after his initial appearance in a San Francisco court on Thursday. Soloway has been dubbed the 'Spam King' by federal prosecutors for allegedly sending hundreds of millions of spam emails via hijacked networks.

"This is a great day for the internet," said Patrick Peterson, vice president of technology for IronPort Systems, which provides email and web security products. "Everyone involved in clapping those handcuffs on are heroes."

Soloway was indicted by a federal grand jury on 35 counts that include mail fraud, wire fraud, fraud in connection with electronic mail, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

Consumers may not immediately notice much change in the amount of email-borne spam, because there are other, even bigger spammers out there, Peterson said. But the long-term effect from Soloway's arrest could be significant.

"The message it sends is going to have a much bigger impact than what we see in our inboxes, which is undetectable," Peterson said, adding that he have recently seen more aggressive efforts by federal authorities to combat the scourge.

New spam legislation

Soloway is the first spammer in the US to be charged with aggravated identity theft under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. His detention hearing is scheduled for next Monday.

"Spam is a scourge of the internet, and Robert Soloway is one of its most prolific practitioners," Jeffrey C Sullivan, US Attorney for Western Washington, said in a prepared statement.

According to the indictment, between November 2003 and May 2007, Soloway operated the Newport Internet Marketing, which offered a "broadcast email" software product, at prices ranging from $195 to $495.

Those services constituted illegal spam, or high-volume commercial email messages that contained false subject headers designed to trick email security systems. Spam was relayed via networks of captive computers, known as botnets, the indictment claims.

Furthermore, he promised a full refund to customers who purchased email products if they were not satisfied. But customers who later complained or asked for refunds were threatened with additional financial charges and referral to a collection agency, the indictment asserts.

Spam volume actually increased in the wake of the CAN-SPAM law, peaking in July of 2004 at 94.5 per cent of global email traffic. The rate of spam infection of email networks has fallen back since then to 76.1 per cent of traffic in April 2007, according to a report by security vendor MessageLabs.

"Certainly, every spammer in the United States had better think twice about staying in the business," Peterson said.