Blue Security waves white flag

Anti-spam firm Blue Security Tuesday said that it is ceasing operations after a crippling series of attacks launched against its services earlier this month by a Russian spammer named PharmaMaster.

The episode serves as an alarming reminder of the challenges involved in dealing with spammers and the resources they have at their disposal to deter those trying to stop them, analyst said.

In a statement Tuesday, Israel-based Blue Security said it can no longer "take the responsibility for an ever-escalating cyber war through our continued operations.

"As we cannot build the Blue Security business on the foundation we originally envisioned, we are discontinuing all of our anti-spam activities on your behalf and are exploring other, non-spam-related avenues for our technological developments," the company said.

The decision comes only days after Blue Security re-started operations following a massive and sustained denial of service (DoS) attack launched against it by PharmaMaster earlier this month.

Blue Security operated a fairly controversial antispam service designed to deter junk-mailers by spamming them back. Blue Security's Do Not Intrude program allowed individuals to register their e-mail addresses with the company and essentially flood spammers who sent them e-mail with automated opt-out requests.

Since the free service was launched on a trial basis last summer, Blue Security claimed to have signed up more than 500,000 subscribers -- including corporate customers -- and had gotten six out of the top 10 spammers to abide with their opt-out lists.

But the speed at which the company folded following the DoS attacks suggests that it was ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of attacking spammers directly, said Todd Underwood, chief operations and security officer at Renesys, an Internet monitoring company.

"Spammers have a history of launching massive attacks against those who try to stop them," Underwood said. While others have taken precautions against such attacks by building more redundancy into their networks, Blue Security appears to have been "woefully under-prepared for the things that happen when you attack spammers," he said.

More importantly, the incident is an alarming reminder of how the vast botnets available to spammers for sending bulk e-mail can be easily used to launch devastating attacks, said John Levine, chair of the Internet Anti-Spam Research Group.

The attacks against Blue Security caused serious disruptions for five service providers who were hosting the company's servers. It also interrupted service at Tucows Inc., a major provider of core DNS services based in Toronto. Thousands of blogs being hosted by San Francisco-based Six Apart were also knocked offline after PharmaMaster launched a DoS attack against a server hosting a Blue Security blog. In an interview following the attacks, company CEO Eran Reshef said the attacks appear to have been carried out with the help of someone within a large Internet Service Provider.

The fact that this sort of disruption can be caused because of a "grudge match" between two people is scary, Levine said. "It points to a fundamental security weakness of the Internet," Levine said. With spammers operating at will from a number of countries, the issue of stopping them is something that people are going to have to think about from both a legal and technical standpoint, he said.

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