Screensavers that attack spammers

While I hate receiving spam, I feel that the latest offering from Lycos to try and tackle spam by hitting Spammers where it hurts – Right in the bandwidth – is highly irresponsible.

If you are not aware of what I am talking about then I am talking about the Make Love Not Spam[^] website by Lycos. It offers you a Screensaver to download which, while running, will hit spammers’ websites. It works by the screensaver requesting from a central database a spammer to attack. The central system monitors the spammers website so that it isn’t completely disabled (how thoughtful) and if one site is getting near the brink will instruct the screensavers to go elsewhere. It doesn’t take too much of the user’s bandwidth as it only sends the request and then ignores the response.

To me this smacks of vigilantism. While some people welcome that someone is “finally doing something” the problem is that it is unregulated. Some might argue the case that it is just an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, but many vigilantes end up hurting their targets or innocent bystanders more than the vigilante’s target ever inflicted on others.

I don’t know what the law is in your part of the world, but I would like to warn anyone in the UK that use of this screensaver may be illegal (I want to emphasise MAY BE illegal – I am not a lawyer). I am referring specifically to Section 3 of the 1990 Misuse of Computers Act.

To quote from guidance from the Home Office website[^]:

Section 3 – Unauthorised modification of computer material
Where a person does any act that causes the unauthorised modification of the contents of any computer a section 3 offence is committed. There must have been the intent to cause the modification and knowledge that the modification has not been authorised. The offence does not have to be preceded by a section 1 offence. This offence covers the introduction of harmful worms and viruses to a system, and denial of service attacks. The offence is punishable on summary conviction for a term not exceeding five years.

While the Lycos screensaver does not completely disable a website it does cause “modification” to the service by slowing down the servers almost to the point of breaking. Any user of Lycos’ screensaver does so with the knowledge that their actions are “harmful”

The advice goes on to say that an offence is committed when the person committing the offence is in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland at the time of the attack, or that the target computer was in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. So, potentially even people outside the UK who hit a spammer’s website that is located within the UK may be convicted under this law.

Finally, let me remind you that I am not a lawyer and this is just my interpretation of the law. If you want to use the screensaver then that is up to you.

NOTE: This was rescued from the Wayback Machine. The original was dated Monday, 29th November, 2004.

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