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Spam Kings

BOOK: Spam Kings
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Spam Kings
Brian S McWilliams
Editor
Allen Noren

Copyright © 2008 Brian McWilliams

O'Reilly Media
Dedication

To my family

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Acknowledgment

The genesis of this book was an unusual onslaught of junk email in May 2003. Over the
course of two weeks, I received over one hundred spams for pills and other products that I
traced to a company in nearby Manchester, New Hampshire. I discovered spammers practically in
my backyard and decided to tell the world about it.

I am grateful to my editors at Salon.com, especially Andrew Leonard, as well as my editors
at
Wired News
, including David Ian Miller, for encouraging me that summer
to write about the company, Amazing Internet Products LLC, and its fascinating founders.
Thanks also to Mark Beavis and Jon Greenberg of New Hampshire Public Radio for working with me
to advance the story further for radio.

I am indebted to my agent, Martha Jewett, for recognizing that a book about some of the
major figures behind the spam problem was long overdue. Martha's help in conceiving
Spam Kings
was immensely important to me.

My editor at O'Reilly, Allen Noren, guided this project with just the right mix of
hard-boiled skepticism and patient handholding. Nothing motivates an author like knowing your
editor is a better writer. Special thanks to Allen and to the rest of the team at O'Reilly for
their dedication to this project.

I appreciate the help of John Levine, who provided a crucial technical review of the
manuscript.

My initial research was greatly assisted by Piers Forrest and Gordon Shumway. Reporting on
Davis Hawke's neo-Nazi years by Erik Hedegaard and Gary Henderson was a big inspiration. I am
also grateful to the scores of people who provided important background but were not mentioned
in the book, including Bill Cole, "Relic," Jeanne Kempthorne, Anne Mitchell, Dan Clements,
Jeffrey Eilender, Brendan Battles, Stan McDonald, Bill Nelson, Tanya Bibeau, Ted Bernard,
Andrew Broome, Blair Russell, and the numerous sources who've asked to remain
anonymous.

I couldn't have written
Spam Kings
without the thousands of people
who have sent their spam samples to the news.admin.net-abuse.sightings newsgroup. The
Archive.org web site and Google Groups search engine were also essential to my
research.

Finally, thanks to my family, especially my wife Diane, for accompanying me on this
journey and for your feedback along the way.

Introduction

Most businesses jump at the opportunity for free publicity. But none of the email
marketers, or spammers, profiled in this book were eager to see their stories in print. In
fact, some have even threatened lawsuits over its publication.

No wonder that
Spam Kings
is the first book to publicly unmask the
people behind the junk email problem. As Jennifer Archie, a leading anti-spam attorney,
recently told me, a spammer's main protection is anonymity.

"Once you've exposed a spamming John Doe, he doesn't have a legal defense. So he'll guard
his anonymity with everything he has," says Archie.

By deftly using anonymity, spammers have tapped into a vast market. Since most
spam-related sales transactions are furtive, reliable statistics are hard to come by. But a
study published by the U.S.-based Direct Marketing Association estimated that consumers spent
over $32 billion in 2003 on products and services advertised by email.

In the process, some say spam has nearly ruined email. Over 60 percent of all email
traffic in the first half of 2004 was spam, according to email filtering firm Brightmail.
(Only three years ago, the volume of unsolicited commercial email was just 8 percent of all
message traffic.) In 2004, an estimated five
trillion
spam messages will
clog Internet users' in-boxes. AOL alone blocks over one billion spam messages every day.
According to Ferris Research
, junk email costs society $10 billion in lost productivity, filtering software,
and other expenses.

Once a problem that vexed only Internet geeks, spam has now earned the ire of consumers,
business leaders, lawmakers, regulators, and the mass media. For many, hearing "You've got
mail" is no longer a happy sound.

The people behind the junk email problem are often unsavory characters running shady, if
not outright illegal, businesses. So why descend into their world and find out what makes them
tick? Why should we, as a society, need the gory details of how these high-tech hucksters make
a buck?

As citizens, Internet-dependent businesses, and policy makers strategize for the next
phase of the battle to save cyberspace, it's my hope that
Spam Kings
can
provide an enlightening and entertaining response to the edict "know thy enemy."

Email was built on an architecture of openness and trust. But when spammers discovered the
medium, they saw an opportunity that could be exploited. Like air pollution, overfishing, and
roadside litter, spam represents the destruction of a public resource by private
interests.

Internet users reacted to this overgrazing of their common land like angry villagers with
pitchforks. They tried to run the junk emailers out of their virtual communities by publishing
spam blacklists and closing off their networks to the abusers. In response, spammers learned a
variety of stealthy tactics to disguise their acts and hide their identities.

Spam Kings
chronicles five crucial years in the cat-and-mouse game
between a dozen or so high-profile spammers and the people determined to drive them off the
Internet. With perhaps thousands of spammers currently in operation and many, many people
dedicated to fighting them, it's nearly impossible to tell the whole story of the junk email
conundrum.

But study the rise and fall of one spammer, Davis Wolfgang Hawke, and you will learn
nearly all you need to know about the intractability of the junk email problem.

Hawke is the central figure of
Spam Kings
, but not because he's the
biggest spammer of all time. Hawke certainly had his successes. At the age of twenty-five, he
became a millionaire by spamming penis-enlargement pills. In the process, he also became the
target of numerous lawsuits designed to drive him out of business. A high-IQ chess player and
honors student, Hawke chose spamming after his career as a brainy neo-Nazi leader imploded.
Hawke put his pursuit of easy wealth ahead of everything else: his education, his family, his
girlfriend, and even his own freedom.

Hawke's hubris leads him into a series of confrontations with spam opponents, the most
important of whom is Susan Gunn. Gunn, a forty-something, mild-mannered computer novice, was
dragged into the fight when her America Online account overflowed with spam. In time, her
alias "Shiksaa
" would strike fear into the heart of spammers everywhere.

Like many junk emailers, Hawke has the misfortune of crossing paths with Shiksaa, who
becomes a volunteer for the anti-spam organization named Spamhaus. Throughout the book, she
helps to unmask scores of spammers, and even land some in jail.

Spam Kings
is the chronicle of Hawke's and Shiksaa's parallel paths
through the spam underworld. Along the way, readers meet a bizarre cast of characters,
including:

Sanford Wallace

One of the original spam kings, Wallace insists that spam is a First Amendment
right. He buries the Internet with the stuff in the mid-90s. You'll learn what happens
when lawyers from a dozen Internet service providers try to convince Wallace that
there's nothing constitutional about spam.

Jason Vale

A champion arm-wrestler and cancer survivor, Vale gets into big legal trouble with
America Online and the Food and Drug Administration for sending out spams promoting
Laetrile as a cure for cancer. Vale blamed his legal problems on anti-spammers in
general and Shiksaa in particular. But in the end, it is his own disregard for the law
that landed him in jail.

Rodona Garst

She is a middle-class, white-collar worker living in the suburbs. So why is she
running stock pump-and-dump scams by email? That's what an anti-spammer wants to find
out when he hacks into Garst's computer and posted the embarrassing contents on the
Internet.

Thomas Cowles

He's a lanky computer genius in Ohio who develops an assortment of technical tricks
to "anonymize" his spams for everything from mortgages to pornography. But as it turns
out, a short, middle-aged woman in his hometown tracks him down, outs him on her web
site, and ultimately helps law enforcement put him behind bars.

Terri DiSisto

Not everyone is in junk email for the money. DiSisto spams the Internet in search of
young men willing to sell homemade videos of themselves being tickled. But when Internet
users decide to dig into DiSisto's past, they discover something shocking.

Alan Moore

Unlike most spammers, Moore doesn't hide behind fake names (although he prefers that
his diet-pill customers call him "Dr Fatburn"). Moore even publishes his home address in
his junk emails. But it turns out that Dr. Fatburn
also has a big business selling pirated software via spam, which puts him
in the legal crosshairs of two of the biggest technology companies in the world.

Scott Richter

He's a serial entrepreneur who discovers spam relatively late in the game. From the
start, he forges alliances with anti-spammers as he builds one of the Internet's biggest
"opt-in" junk email operations. But after Richter double-crosses Shiksaa, his empire
begins to crumble. Soon, he's staring down the barrel of twin lawsuits from Microsoft
and New York State.

You will discover that the line between spammers and anti-spammers is not always clear.
The uneasy alliances between the two sides are shown here—along with the story of a handful of
spam fighters who cross over to work for the "enemy."

This book is descriptive, not prescriptive. There is no Final Ultimate Solution to the
Spam Problem (although you will find some buried treasure on how to keep your in-box free of
junk email).
Spam Kings
may not show you the road toward solving the spam
problem. But after reading this book, you will know precisely how we got where we are
today.

Brian McWilliams

Durham, New Hampshire

Chapter 1. 
Birth of a Spam King

People are stupid
, Davis Wolfgang Hawke thought as he stared at the
nearly empty box of swastika pendants on his desk. It was April 22, 1999, two days after the
one-hundredth anniversary of Adolph Hitler's birth. Dozens of orders for the red-and-black
necklaces had been pouring into his Knights of Freedom (KOF)
Nationalist Party web site every week since he built it nine months ago. The
demand nearly outstripped what his supplier could provide, but Hawke wasn't celebrating his
e-commerce success. As he stuffed the remaining pendants into padded envelopes and addressed
them, Hawke gazed out the window of his mobile home at the hazy South Carolina sky and
thought:
This is the ultimate hypocrisy. If even half of these people actually
joined the party, I would have a major political movement. Instead, all they want is a
pretty, shiny pendant
.

And if a snoopy reporter for the local paper hadn't recently blown his cover, Hawke
might not have been spending all of the web site's income on rent, telephone, and
electricity bills for the double-wide just off Highway 221 in Chesnee. But Hawke was forced
to move into the trailer in March, after secretly operating KOF.net for six months from the
dorm room his parents paid for at Wofford College
in nearby Spartanburg. Hawke had always been an anomaly at the pricey Methodist
school, with his penchant for dressing all in black, wearing his dark hair in a ponytail,
and sporting a push-broom mustache. But the 20-year-old junior had managed to hold down a
3.8 grade point average as a double major in German and history without anyone knowing he
was also the founder and chief executive director of the Knights of Freedom. His room in
Shipp Hall had been festooned with Nazi flags, Hitler videos, and a collection of knives,
but Hawke did no proselytizing on campus. In fact, he had little social contact with other
students.

Although his ultimate goal was one day to be elected the nation's first white-power
president, Hawke knew he had to lay some groundwork before his philosophy would become
mainstream. That task would make him a target for leftists and the media. To shield himself,
even with party comrades and web site visitors, Hawke used the pseudonym "Bo
Decker
" and listed a post office box in Walpole, Massachusetts as the Knights of
Freedom mailing address.

Over a thousand people signed up for his monthly email newsletter, the
White
Pride News Service
. Some 200 people joined as dues-paying members, paying five
dollars a month for a membership card, a KOF armband, a videotape of speeches by Decker, and
a subscription to the newsletter. Not bad for a movement that had been unheard of a year
earlier. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League had recently said that KOF was the
fastest-growing neo-Nazi group in the United States. Using the alias Bo Decker, Hawke had
introduced the world to the Knights of Freedom in an August 1998 posting to several online
discussion groups: "We must band together in unity to defend our Race. Either we stand
together and battle for the right to racial existence or we will be wiped out by
international Jewry and their nigger police."

As Hawke saw it, the Knights of Freedom had two major things going for it: its web site
and his brains. The KOF.net site, dressed all in black like its owner, was the best
white-power site on the Internet. Besides the merchandise section, there was a chat room,
press release section, message board, and automated sign-up forms—all the bells and
whistles. At one point, Hawke even posted a note on the site's home page offering to provide
web design and hosting to other white-power groups. Hawke and his lieutenants also knew how
to use the Internet for promotion. They worked newsgroups and discussion lists, talking up
the Knights of Freedom and its web site. Hawke had put an automatic hit counter on the front
page of KOF.net, and he got a kick out of checking the traffic statistics every day. It
intrigued him that you could publish a message in a newsgroup or send out the newsletter
emails and then a few hours later watch the bar graphs on the stats page suddenly shoot
up.

As for Hawke's mind, it was quantitative, analytical. It made him a top student in high
school and a formidable chess player, and it made his college studies a snap. He could think
several moves ahead of his opponents.

However, in a moment of hubris, Hawke posted a large photograph of himself on the front
page of KOF.net. It showed the lanky Hawke dressed in a Nazi uniform, with his arm
outstretched in a "Heil Hitler" salute. When a Wofford student was out web surfing one
evening in early February and happened to run across the site, Hawke was undone.

Soon a front-page exposé appeared in the Spartanburg
Herald-Journal
that fingered Hawke as the head of KOF. It said that he used the site for recruiting and to
stoke racist fervor among party members, who addressed him as "Commander." According to the
article, the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors hate groups, had
been tracking him since he was in high school in Westwood, Massachusetts.

But what hit Hawke like a punch to the gut was a matter-of-fact statement in the article
attributed to Mark Potok, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Potok told the paper
that Hawke was a Jew who, to hide his heritage, had changed his name from Andrew Britt
Greenbaum upon graduating from high school in 1996.

The article buried what would become Hawke's standard rebuttal to the charges: that his
father, Hyman Andrew Greenbaum, was only one-quarter Jewish. And it omitted altogether that
Hawke believed his true biological father was a German immigrant named Dekker with whom his
mother had had an affair. Either way, Hawke knew he wouldn't have been considered Jewish
even under Hitler's classification. As Hawke wrote in his application for a change of
identity: "I have always responded to a different name and I wish to formalize my name prior
to attending college in the fall as to avoid confusion."
[
1
]

The article couldn't have come at a worse time. For the past few months, the Knights of
Freedom had begun to attract attacks from other white-power groups. Some, jealous of Hawke's
Internet skills, had taken to calling him the "Net Nazi" and were claiming that the KOF was
a virtual movement with no real world presence. Others, suspicious of the KOF's quick rise
into the limelight, posted mocking replies to his messages in online newsgroups. To Hawke's
detractors, the falsehoods about his Jewish ancestry would provide delicious irony and
damaging ammunition.

Indeed, the insults about him being a "Kosher Nazi" had already begun. Tom Metzger, head
of the White Aryan Resistance—the same Tom Metzger whose name Hawke had placed in the hidden
"MetaTag" code at KOF.net to bring in traffic from search engines—was quoted in the
Herald-Journal
article as saying, "If he is a Jew, he will have no
stature left. People he is involved with will have nothing to do with him."

When the article appeared, part of Hawke was mortified that everything he had built was
about to collapse. But he tried to stay cool-headed. He contemplated his damage-control
options. He wouldn't say anything about the article to people in the Knights of Freedom
unless they asked. And if they did, he'd remind them that the whole matter was a creation of
the Jewish-controlled media or an effort by the Zionist Occupied Government, as he liked to
refer to the controlling powers in the U.S., designed to undermine proud Aryan people.
Bottom line, any publicity is good publicity, Hawke would tell his followers.

Fortunately for Hawke, people at Wofford were focused more on Hawke's message than on
the revelations about him as a messenger. To his relief, he inspired fear, not laughter.
Wofford professors abandoned their syllabi that day and instead devoted their classes to
discussing the Knights of Freedom web site and the group's leader. Then, in the evening,
around 300 Wofford students—nearly a third of the student body—gathered in the college's
auditorium to hold a candlelight vigil to show their opposition to racism and
bigotry.

While Wofford's dedication to principles of free speech prevented administrators from
expelling Hawke, they were eager to relax the college rules and allow him to move off
campus. In early March, he signed a lease for the cramped trailer in the woods, fifteen
miles from the college. Hawke knew he was finished with Wofford; he'd complete the semester,
but that would probably be the end of his college career. Bigger things awaited him. The
publicity train started by the local paper was chugging along. The
Boston
Globe
published a story about him in late February that put the Knights of
Freedom on a national stage. Even
Rolling Stone
wanted to send a
reporter to interview him.

There was a silver lining to Hawke's move off campus. A woman he had met in an online
chat room offered to move to South Carolina and serve as party secretary. Her name was
Patricia Lingenfelter. She was a beautiful Aryan, smart and tough—a green belt in karate—and
ten years older than Hawke. Once he was out of the dorms, Hawke invited her to stay with him
in Chesnee. To keep up appearances, he insisted that she still refer to him as "Commander"
around other party comrades, but everyone knew Hawke and Patricia were lovers.

In late March, Hawke decided it was time to host an assembly of comrades in Chesnee. He
wanted the First Party Congress to happen on the one hundredth anniversary of Hitler's
birthday, but April 20 didn't coincide with Wofford's spring break. So he scheduled the
meeting the week before the Fuhrer's 100
th
. While fewer than a
dozen party members showed up, the atmosphere was charged by the presence of a camera crew
from ABC News's
Hard Copy
program, which broadcast a snippet of Hawke's
rousing speech, along with footage of party members marching around outside his trailer in
their Nazi regalia.

Meanwhile, out in Colorado two kids at Columbine High School celebrated Hitler's
birthday by going on a shooting rampage, killing twelve people, including themselves.
Suddenly, TV news producers were grabbing for their Rolodexes, and Hawke's name, after his
strong performance on
Hard Copy
, was coming out on top. A crew from the
Fox Files
television news program showed up at the trailer the next
day to interview Hawke about the Knights of Freedom and his insights into the
killings.

The media likes to buy and sell fear
, Hawke thought as he and
Patricia watched the Fox report on the TV in his trailer that evening on April 22. The
program was trying to spin the Columbine massacre as a racially motivated hate crime, but
Hawke wouldn't play along. At one point in the program, the Fox interviewer asked Hawke, who
was wearing his Nazi uniform, if he ever hugged his father.

Hawke said no, and added that he didn't hug his mother either.

"Why not?"

"I never felt the need for physical contact of that sort," said Hawke.

"Did you feel the need for human affection?"

"Human affection is not something that I value at the moment, or then, or ever."

"Do you believe in love?"

"Sure, I believe in love, but I don't believe that I can ever have time for that. That's
a human emotion," replied Hawke.

"Do you think that people would see that as sad or unfortunate, that here's a young man
that says that he never felt any love for anyone growing up, or never hugged his mom or
dad?"

"I don't really care what they have to say," Hawke answered.

When the program was over, Hawke switched off the TV. Patricia said she was going to
head into town for a quick food run and to gas up the car. Hawke turned on the computer on
his desk and was waiting for it to boot up when the phone rang. It was his mother. He hadn't
spoken to her for several months.

"Are you happy now?" she yelled at him.

"What do you mean?" he replied.

Peggy Greenbaum said she had seen the
Fox Files
segment. "How do
you know your web site didn't cause those boys to go crazy in Columbine? It makes me sick to
think that you might have spurred them on," she said.

Hawke considered her question. To him, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were probably just
disgruntled teens taking revenge against a school system that was force-feeding them the
same old liberal nonsense day after day, year after year. But before he had a chance to
explain this to his mother, she interrupted.

"I hope you're happy now," she hissed again, and hung up on him.

Hawke sat down at his desk. His parents had been paying his tuition and living expenses,
but it was obvious he could no longer rely on them for anything. Yet he knew that if he was
going to realize his dream of building the Knights of Freedom into a major political
movement and creating an Aryan homeland out west, he'd need a lot of money. Hawke's personal
savings—acquired through generous holiday gifts from his parents and other relatives—would
carry him for a while. He was pretty certain that his grandparents on both sides of the
family would someday will him a small fortune, maybe close to a million dollars. But in the
meantime, there were bills to pay.

Hawke started up the web browser on his computer and typed in the address of the eBay
auction site. He occasionally visited the site to check out auctions of Nazi
paraphernalia—he'd picked up one of his SS uniforms that way. But this time he wasn't going
to the site to shop. Instead, he surfed to the section of the site for creating a new
account, and began rapidly filling out the form.

Hawke paused when he got to the section asking him to specify a username. After some
thought he typed in "antiqueamerica"—a sturdy name that wouldn't provoke any suspicion. Then
he launched himself machinelike into the repetitive task of setting up auctions for the
knives, buckles, pendants, uniforms, and other Nazi gear he'd been selling at
KOF.net.

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