— Most American Internet-service providers block anonymous relays. But servers in other countries aren't as careful. "The biggest places to search for relays," Dickey says, "are Korea, Japan, Russia, and China. They're non-English-speaking places, but everything [in the computers] is English. They set up their machines, and they either can't read the directions that tell them how to block spam, or they don't care. As long as it works, they don't care. But the thing is, I've seen some servers buckle because of the amount of abuse they've taken. Because if you have a server for maybe 20 or 30 people, your little server works just fine for those 20 or 30 people. Then somebody tries to send 250,000 pieces of mail out of it, and the system can't handle it."

Dickey also blocks spam mail by identifying the original source, the spammer himself, though spammers exert great effort not to be identified. They use fake e-mail addresses, though Dickey says his system at American Digital Network can usually spot the phony names, and they sometimes use the e-mail addresses of an unknowing third party as a return path. That's not fun for the third party, Dickey explains. "Because now you're getting 200 complaints about being a spammer," Dickey says, "when you didn't do anything. But they've put your name in there to try to throw us off the track."

American Digital Network subscribes to several Internet groups that track and keep lists of known spammers. And Dickey keeps his own list. He blocks all of them from sending mail to his customers. He's also had personal e-mail contact with some of the spammers. "One guy," Dickey recalls, "who was local, actually, kept saying, 'I'm not a spammer. It says right on the mail, this is not spam.' I told him if it's unsolicited, it's spam. He just kept saying, 'It's not spam,' so finally I just reported him to his ISP."

Some spammers, upon being blocked or reported, have tried to "mailbomb" Dickey, which means sending "250,000 pieces of mail all saying, 'SCREW YOU!' The idea is to bring my system down. But I'm well-protected against that." Other disgruntled spammers attempt to hack into Dickey's system "to see if they can take it over." He's well-protected against that too.

Another spam-fighting method is to block any e-mail that comes in with a specific subject line. The problem with that is a spammer need only change one character in the subject line to get it through again. Dickey scrolls through a list of such subjects. It's thousands of entries long. The words teens, orgy, wet, and various euphemisms for female anatomy appear over and over. Dickey estimates that porn advertising makes up 30 to 40 percent of the half-million spam e-mails his system blocks every day. As a father of two young daughters, it's that 30 to 40 percent he's most concerned about. Asked what the most offensive spam he'd ever dealt with was, he answers, "We got one from San Francisco," he recalls, "that was somehow gay related. It was pictures of men pooping on meat. I'm not talking about a link here. I'm talking about my customers receiving a piece of mail with pictures right on it of men defecating on steaks."

Kiddie-porn ads also come over the wires. "Those I send to the Federal Trade Commission," Dickey says, "along with multi-level marketing schemes and anything else I think may be illegal."


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