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Netcom wins spam reprieve

Newsgroup spam foes call off a Usenet death penalty that was set to start at 5 p.m. PT against the national ISP.

Newsgroup spam foes are calling off a Usenet death penalty against Netcom set to start at 5 p.m. PT today, saying the national Internet provider has cut back on junk postings that were flooding the Internet's bulletin boards.

But Netcom is not totally in the clear. Instead of lifting the penalty altogether, the Usenet administrators who had called for the death penalty (known on the Net as a UDP) have put the ISP on probation for the next five working days.

Should newsgroup spam--where thousands of messages are posted repeatedly on the Internet's bulletin board system--emanating from Netcom rise again through March 2, activist administrators will implement the UDP immediately, without warning, according to Ken Lucke, a spokesman for the group calling the UDP.

Since the loose coalition of newsgroup administrators called for the UDP on February 14 on "news.admin.net-abuse.usenet," Netcom added spam filters to help curtail the amount of spam flowing from its system.

The company's executives had been working on spam filters for a while but hadn't communicated that to the newsgroup administrators, said Mike Kallet, senior vice president of products, technology and business development for Netcom.

Kallet added last week that he was confident that the service would be able to stave off the UDP.

"Netcom has responded quite favorably on the issue of Usenet abuse and is continuing work on further antispam measures," wrote newsgroup administrator Douglas Mackall in a statement about the UDP. "Netcom's decision to install Usenet filtering software is admirable, and other Internet providers would do well to follow its example."

Netcom executives today said they were pleased that the UDP was called off and will continue working to avert spam. "We're excited that we've been able to meet the advocacy group's goals and satisfy them," said Gene Shimshock, a Netcom spokesman. "We look forward to working closely with them."

But Mackall said that the company still has a problem: Its users, as they are cut off from being able to send spam from Netcom's news servers, are migrating to other servers on the Net that have been left open and vulnerable to security break-ins.

"While we believe that Netcom is working to solve this problem, we also feel that we owe it to the Usenet community to continue monitoring the situation until it is resolved," Mackall stated.

Simshock noted that Netcom will continue addressing problems as they arise. "This is just the beginning of a whole series of efforts we're going to undertake to make sure we take a lead role in this process. We're going to have to."

The UDP is a weapon that newsgroup administrators use to control spam. In a death penalty scenario, a set of administrators who are all clearly identified delete any postings sent by the convicted Internet access provider by issuing "cancel messages."

While many find the content of the junk messages--especially those advertising get-rich-quick scams and pornography--offensive, the administrators find them offensive for other reasons. Spam, they say, is killing off the bulletin board system of the Internet.

While some Netizens see them as vigilantes, others view them as heroes.