At war with the spammers

The victory

The spam messages contained links that led to websites, and we decided to focus on the providers that were hosting the websites for free. Invariably the providers' terms of service forbid pornographic or offensive material from being posted, so we began our own campaign of notifying those companies that their terms were being violated. They were all well-known, legitimate services, and they acted responsibly when notified of the problem.

After a few weeks of spam attacks, my staff became proficient at tracking the links, checking the hosting sites' terms of service and requesting that the sites be taken out of service. Within 45 minutes of a new volley of spam, my staff was able to get the porn sites taken down.

The game of spam and site dismantlement went on for about six weeks; then the spam stopped as abruptly as it had started. I believe that our persistence and quick actions drove the spammers away. We just made it too hard to do business with us. It may have seemed to the spammers that using our good name would help get the spam read, but the ploy backfired because we kept knocking down the sites that brought in the money.

If I hadn't been willing to look to others for help, I may never have gotten on the right trail. The FBI and Secret Service were working on the problem behind the scenes, and years later I learned of how widespread the spamming and fraud scams were. Although we received help from the FBI, I believe that by fending for ourselves we discouraged the spammers and drove them away.

In the end, I learned, the decision about outsourcing is not really an either/or one. Even when you outsource, it's wise to stay engaged. Stay open to the idea that others may be better suited to a task than you are, but at the same time, don't abdicate your responsibilities. And never underestimate what you can do for yourself.

Undercover is written anonymously by a real CSO. Send feedback to csoundercover@cxo.com.

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