Spammers Win, Anti-Spam Software Firm Shuts Down

Blue Security Inc. was launched two years ago to fight spam — those annoying, unsolicited junk e-mails that fill many inboxes. But the spammers won, and the Silicon Valley firm shut down Wednesday. Madeleine Brand discusses the spam battle with Blue Security founder and chairman Eran Reshef.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, a new documentary about Nat King Cole, the first black man to host a variety show on television. First, though, what wouldn't you do to get rid of those spam emails offering incredibly low mortgage rates or incredibly enhanced sexual performance? Well, one Silicon Valley man started his own company, Blue Security, to fight the onslaught of spam. But two years later, score one for the spammers. Blue Security is going out of business today. Eran Reshef is the founder of the company. And how did you initially go about trying to stop spam?

Mr. ERAN RESHEF (Founder, Blue Security): For every spam message one of our members received, he or she would simply send out an opt out request back to the spammer asking them to comply with our do-not-spam registry. This is your right under the law.

BRAND: So, you asked very politely, please stop spamming. And did anyone comply?

Mr. RESHEF: About six weeks ago, when we had about 500,000 members in our registry, we actually got six out of the top ten spammers in the world to actually comply with the registry and stop bothering our members.

BRAND: So six out of ten, that's pretty good. So what about the other four? What did you do about them?

Mr. RESHEF: One of the other four, this one large Russian spammer actually decided that if we interfere with his spam business, then there will be no Internet.

BRAND: Well, what happened?

Mr. RESHEF: Well, the first thing that happened is that our members, our community members, which again are U.S. citizens exercising their right under the law, started receiving blackmail letters telling them they have to stop using our software.

The next thing that happened is that this spammer just shut down large portions of the Internet, major websites. He shut down 2 million blogs just to get our service, you know, out of the Internet. And what we came to a conclusion is that this is going to become a full-scale cyber warfare, and this is not something that we want to be responsible for. This is not something that our users sign up for. This is not something that a commercial entity can go ahead and authorize.

BRAND: And I understand he was also threatening to send out viruses to your customers.

Mr. RESHEF: Yes, that's right. You know, he basically started, you know, preparations to send viruses to our customers and actually to go ahead and attack their machines specifically. This is, again, not something that I want to be responsible for, and, you know, this really frustrates me. We feel that we are like a, you know, pharmaceutical company finding a cheap solution to drug addiction, and then getting attacked by the drug dealers.

BRAND: Hmm. Well, do you feel a little bit like David versus Goliath, except in this case David lost?

Mr. RESHEF: Yeah. Goliath just stepped over David, and we all actually lost.

BRAND: But I'm wondering--and I'm sure a lot of listeners are wondering--what we can do to protect ourselves if you, a company set up to get rid of these spam messages, can't fight this, what can we do? We're really Davids. I mean, we're teeny Davids.

Mr. RESHEF: Yeah. That's the reasons why we're trying to get lots of tiny Davids to work together, but what spammers have proven is that they can take down the entire Internet. Basically, every company (unintelligible) that if it gets on the nerve of some criminal, that criminal can take them down.

BRAND: Well, now what are you going to do?

Mr. RESHEF: We'll not going to continue in the anti-spam business, but we have lots of technological assets that can be used in different markets, but we are not going out of business.

BRAND: But you're no longer going to fight spam?

Mr. RESHEF: Yes. What Blue was able to do is to prove that there is a working solution to spam, that spam can be translated into something meaningful. You know, we have proven results. We have customers saying, you know, I used to get, you know, thousands of spam messages, and they just stopped getting any spam whatsoever.

It's just not up to Blue Security with its limited resources and its, at the end of the day, small community to be able to wage this war. This is something that is left to entities which are larger with more resources and with more authority on this.

BRAND: Eran Reshef, thank you very much.

Mr. RESHEF: Thank you very much.

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