Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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Attorney General Abbott Cracks Down on Spammer Who Hijacked Consumers' Personal Computers

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today cracked down on rogue computer networks that illegally mask the origins of spam messages.

A stipulated final judgment filed with the federal district court in Austin prevents Texas resident Alonzo Villanueva from unlawfully sending spam messages to any e-mail addresses in the country. The judgment also prohibits Villanueva from using or selling “botnets,” a new mechanism employed by sophisticated hackers and spammers.

Media links
Attorney General's lawsuit against Alonzo Villanueva
Final Judgment against Alonzo Villanueva

“Spam like this is more than a nuisance – it is illegal,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Texans will not tolerate Internet scam artists who profiteer from spam, deceptive e-mails and piracy networks. The Office of the Attorney General will continue our aggressive crackdown on illegal spam.”

The Attorney General’s enforcement action permanently prohibits Villanueva from sending commercial e-mail with false or misleading header information; attempting to hide the identity of an e-mail’s true sender; and attempting to evade an Internet service provider’s filtering mechanisms. Any commercial e-mails Villanueva sends must clearly state they are advertisements and must include a physical address and “reply to” electronic address so consumers can request that they receive no future e-mails.

Most importantly, Villanueva is personally prevented from using botnets or offering them for use by others. Botnets, like the one offered and leased by Villanueva, are a collection of exploited computers that are connected to the Internet. Botnets are summoned and controlled by third parties, usually without their owners’ knowledge. Botnets unlawfully tap into the processing power and networking access of the individual computers that comprise them.

Spammers are increasingly drawn to botnets, because they make it much easier to hide the sender’s identity. Villanueva, whom investigators determined began his illegal scheme as a spammer gained access to a substantial botnet that he “leased” to others. Attorney General Abbott is continuing his investigation into Villanueva’s clients and other botnets that were used to send illegal spam.

Villanueva was also one of several defendants sued by the Microsoft Corporation in 2005 for flooding millions of consumers’ Hotmail accounts with spam.

This case is the latest effort by Attorney General Abbott to curb the proliferation of spam. In June 2006, the Attorney General shut down an Austin-based spam network that was run by Ryan Pitylak and partners Mark Trotter, Gary Trappler and Alan Refaeli. The defendants in that case agreed to numerous strict limitations on their future commercial e-mails, including clearly identifying e-mails as unsolicited commercial advertising and providing consumers an opt-out mechanism.