AT&T caught in spam crossfire

Summary:A controversial anti-spam group is targeting AT&T in a bid to shut down marketers accused of routing unsolicited bulk e-mail through the telecom giant's Internet service.

A controversial anti-spam group is targeting AT&T in a bid to shut down marketers accused of routing unsolicited bulk e-mail through the telecom giant's Internet service.

The Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS) added a block of AT&T's IP (Internet Protocol) addresses to its Realtime Blackhole List this week, stopping delivery of any e-mail from those sites to Internet service providers that subscribe to the popular anti-spam filter. MAPS was responding to complaints about unwanted e-mail originating from the addresses.

The blacklisted block of addresses is assigned to home-furnishings Web site BeaverHome, which has subleased some of its bandwidth to e-mail marketer MonsterHut.

Anti-spammers say they suspect e-mail traffic originating from the filtered block is evidence that AT&T has entered into a "pink contract" with BeaverHome guaranteeing delivery of unsolicited commercial e-mail in violation of the company's official spam policies.

AT&T, which says it is one of the five largest ISPs in the United States, previously admitted to entering into a pink contract with Nevada Hosting. The deal was rescinded after U.K.-based anti-spam group The SpamHaus Project posted a copy of the contract on the Internet.

"We've been complaining about spam originating from MonsterHut's (IP addresses) on AT&T for a long time, but that's a proverbial black hole," said Joe Harris, an anti-spam advocate who works for a Seattle-based ISP. "If they don't have a pink contract with MonsterHut, then AT&T is asleep at the switch and flat out ignoring the complaints they're getting."

Bill Hoffman, an AT&T representative, said he would not comment on any individual ISP customers or about the addresses added to the RBL. But he said the company does not "accept or endorse pink contracts," crediting the earlier mishap to a "rogue AT&T employee who acted out of process."

"These are unsubstantiated allegations. We have an acceptable use policy that does not allow spam and we enforce that," Hoffman said.

Under the gun to deliver profits, ISPs are increasingly trying to land the big-fish customers that can buy high-speed Internet lines worth up to tens of thousands of dollars a month. In the worst case, ISPs have resorted to pink contracts that allow marketers to send spam or host a spam-related Web site on their networks in exchange for "danger money," or a higher fee, because of the risk involved.

In addition to AT&T, PSINet last year acknowledged that it used a pink contract in violation of its spam policy.

Topics: Telcos

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