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Antispam campaign bites the dust

Lycos Europe throws in the towel on its controversial attempt to enlist PCs to deluge spammers' sites.

A Web portal's controversial attempt to take on spammers by bombarding their Web sites with traffic from thousands of individual PCs is over.

After a week of heavy criticism, Lycos Europe said on Friday that it has thrown in the towel on its plan to launch denial-of-service-like attacks on spammers. In the statement, the company rapped the media, as well as Internet monitoring company Netcraft.

"We are astonished by the enormous resonance generated by the "Make love not spam" campaign," the statement read. "With this campaign we intended to raise a new impulse in the antispam discussion, and therefore create awareness for the big economic and societal problems caused by spam. The campaign has reached its goal and thus will be stopped."

The company forcefully denied it launched any denial-of-service attacks on spammers and that it had taken two Chinese Web sites offline.

The statement continued: "In opposition to media reports to the contrary, we did not attempt any denial-of-service. We forcefully rebut a report by Netcraft referring to two spam servers having been disabled by our screensaver. At the point of time of the Netcraft measurement on December 1st, 2004, both spam servers were not on the target list of the screensaver. Also, the screensaver's website has not been hacked as reported by F-Secure. This has been acknowledged by F-Secure itself."

This decision comes about a week after the "Make love not spam" screensaver was launched. The tool was taken offline on Friday, but at the time Lycos claimed that the tool would soon be back online. The downloadable screensaver uses the idle processing power of users' computers to slow down bandwidth that connects to spammers' Web sites.

"Things have changed," said a Lycos UK representative on Monday. He said that the company had reviewed "Make love not spam" before deciding not to bring it back.

Lycos Europe is a separate company from the Web portal that bears the Lycos name in the United States. Lycos Europe claims that it maintains roughly 40 million e-mail accounts in eight European countries.

Lycos Europe won huge amounts of publicity from its antispam tool, but also attracted a storm of criticism from experts who said the scheme was poorly thought-out.

Although the campaign was short-lived, legal experts believe that the plan highlighted holes in U.K. laws. Earlier this year, the All Party Internet Group (APIG) recommended that parliament make it an offence to impair access to data as part of an upheaval of the Computer Misuse Act of 1990. But as it stands, companies may have trouble prosecuting anyone who starts DDoS attacks.

"The Lycos thing has shown a lack of ability (in the law) to prosecute for denial-of-service attacks," said Mark Smith, solicitor for Olswang. "You would struggle under current laws to bring a case against someone. The problem is that DDoS attacks cross jurisdictions."

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.