A spammer by any other name

Stupid hacker trick No. 4: Making play as activist victim, Robert Soloway instead draws public ire

Perp: Robert Alan Soloway

Status: Arrested; charged with 35 counts of mail fraud, identity theft, and money laundering

Dossier: When you've inspired not one but two Web sites to pillory you for your unsolicited e-mail exploits, you have a right to claim the title "spam king." Far from humble, Robert Alan Soloway did, however, express some reluctance in accepting the mantle when he launched SPAMIS (Strategic Partnership Against Microsoft's Illegal Spam), a somewhat ironically titled activist Web site for an organization that represented "legitimate e-mail-marketing-related individuals that have been frivolously sued by Microsoft" for spamming.

But regardless of how Soloway has attempted to portray himself, it's clear that he's one of the most prolific spammers of all time. Wresting the spam-king scepter from former holder Scott Richter, Soloway employed myriad illegal techniques to distribute millions of unsolicited e-mail messages. Establishing extensive botnets, Soloway abused open mail relays and forged message headers to misdirect the ire of his victims, as well as the thousands of bounce messages his spamming activity inevitably created. Ever on the lookout for an additional buck, Soloway even spammed advertisements for his own services, offering tools and services that unsophisticated companies could lease to unleash their own illegal marketing campaigns on unsuspecting inboxes.

Microsoft sued Soloway for flooding MSN and Hotmail accounts with spam, eventually winning a civil judgment of $7.8 million in 2005. An Oklahoma-based ISP also won a $10 million judgment against him later that year. Soloway not only never paid the judgments, but he mocked the plaintiffs, taunting them on a message board, "I've been sued for hundreds of millions of dollars and have had my business running for over 10 years without ever paying a dime regardless to the outcome of any lawsuits." Soloway subsequently launched the aforementioned SPAMIS, which -- surprise, surprise -- employed the same illegal spamming techniques to share its laughable "we're the victims here" message.

Upshot: Despite a lot of haughty, snotty talk, Soloway is currently cooling his heels in jail, having been arrested on May 30 on 35 counts of identity theft, fraud, and money laundering. He faces a seizure of more than $770,000 in assets, a $250,000 fine, and 65 years in prison if convicted. Whether we'll see a dropoff in spam remains to be seen, but rest assured, Soloway likely won't be the last in the line of spam monarchs.

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