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Judge weighs ISP vs. spammer

A federal judge is expected to rule soon whether backbone provider AGIS must reconnect Cyber Promotions as demanded in a lawsuit filed by the mass emailer.

A federal judge is expected to rule soon whether backbone provider AGIS must reconnect Cyber Promotions' Internet service as demanded in a lawsuit filed by the mass emailer, people involved in the case said.

Cyber Promotions president Sanford Wallace filed suit a week ago after AGIS took Cyber Promotions and two other companies offline earlier this month. AGIS has declined to discuss its reasons for terminating service, except to say the actions came in response to attacks hackers were making on the three companies, which all permit their users to send unsolicited commercial email, according to AGIS.

"The attacks were of a nature which not only threatened portions of our global, public network, but other parts of the Internet as well," AGIS chief executive Phil Lawlor said in a statement released Friday night. "Our engineers simply followed AGIS standard security procedures in shutting their service down.

During a daylong court hearing Thursday, though, an AGIS engineer testified that he issued an ultimatum to management at the backbone provider to disconnect the controversial bulk emailer or he would quit, Wallace later told CNET's NEWS.COM.

In arguing for a preliminary injunction Thursday, Cyber Promotions argued that it would be irreparably harmed by being yanked from the Net and asked U.S. District Judge Anita Brody to issue an order forbidding AGIS's action. Last Monday, Brody denied a similar emergency motion made by Cyber Promotions, AGIS attorney Philip Katauskas said.

Arguments at the hearing centered on whether AGIS should be required to reinstate service to Cyber Promotions. But they also involved whether the bulk emailer should be required to post a bond to compensate AGIS if it is harmed by reconnecting the mass emailer to the Internet.

Brody indicated she would try to rule on Cyber Promotions' motion by today, but parties on both sides told CNET's NEWS.COM after the court adjourned in Philadelphia that the ruling probably wouldn't be available until Tuesday at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Wallace has directed his clients and others to call AGIS in protest. "Our relationship with AGIS was wonderful" before getting tossed offline, Wallace added.

The president of New Hampshire-based Quantum Communications, which along with Integrated Media Promotions was also taken offline, said that he's in the dark about why his company was given the boot: "This whole situation is not really clear at this point," said Walt Rines, president of Quantum, an ISP that also permits users to make commercial emailings.

He added that AGIS appeared to be giving contradictory reasons for why it disconnected his service. "What they have told everyone is that we were disconnected for security-related matters. But what they faxed to me [September 19] said we had been terminated for violation of our contract."

Before Cyber Promotions was disconnected, the mass emailer had posted a statement about the incident on its page, saying at first that it was told there was some kind of technical problem that resulted in the cut-off. Then it said that AGIS intentionally cut off Cyber Promotions' access because the junk emailer was violating the ISP's security rules.

The shutdown also may have been sparked by a "ping flood," a form of a denial of service attack, directed at Cyber Promotions that clogged AGIS's servers, according to Wallace.

A ping is a signal sent by one Internet site to see if another site is working properly. If too many messages are directed at a site, however, it can overwhelm it and possibly even shut it, or the underlying backbone provider, down.

"Ping-flood attacks observed originating from the West Coast into AGIS and directed to the Washington and Philadelphia routers severely degraded AGIS network performance to [an] unacceptable level...AGIS had no alternative but to shut off services to Cyber Promotions," reads a statement that Wallace put on his page. Wallace alleged that the statement came from an AGIS engineer.

Whatever the reason, it is not the first time that Cyber Promotions has been tossed offline. In fact, the company's history is rich with tales of having being dumped by one Net provider after another.

ISPs have come under intense heat when hosting spammers. But when Wallace signed a contract with AGIS, he thought he had found a place to call home.

Senior writer Janet Kornblum and reporter Stephanie Miles contributed to this report.