Enticing spam whistleblowers

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has submitted a report to Congress stating that the information provided by the vast majority of consumers who are forwarding spam e-mails to the FTC’s database is not helping to identify spammers. As an alternative, it is examining whether it would be appropriate to initiate a reward scheme for information leading to the conviction of spammers.

The report reveals the FTC’s belief that substantial financial rewards could tempt whistleblowers, or insiders within spam gangs, to provide the necessary evidence and high-value information required to secure a conviction. It suggests that rewards would need to be about $100,000, but sometimes as much as $250,000.

“The FTC has taken an important step in the fight against spam by admitting its failure to date and its willingness to try other measures. This is an on-going battle that will require a flexible and combined approach through legislation, technology and education,” said Gregg Mastoras, senior security analyst at anti-spam firm Sophos Inc.

The FTC was required to submit the report to Congress as part of the CAN-SPAM Act, which became active on January 1, 2004, in an attempt to discover whether financial rewards would assist in the capture and sentencing of spammers.

“Although there have been a few isolated convictions of US spammers, they’ve been mostly symbolic in nature as the overall deluge of unsolicited emails has continued unchecked,” continued Mastoras. “Hopefully this bounty will provide the extra incentive most whistleblowers need to actually turn an acquaintance in. As we’ve seen with virus bounties, greed can often triumph over complacency, friendship and fear.”

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