Insider slams Kiwi spam fighters

ORBS' proactive approach to fighting bulk email may actually help spammers. But the group's chief critic is under the gun, too

ORBS, an organisation in New Zealand opposed to bulk email, appears to be fighting spam with spam.

The group takes it upon itself to test networks for bad email filters. Unlike its chief competitor, the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), ORBS doesn't wait for spam complaints.

But the thousands of emails needed to poke and prod a system for weak links are apparently considered spam by AboveNet, one of its ISPs. Unless it changes its ways, or switches to another ISP, AboveNet is planning to block ORBS email, sources said Wednesday.

Although ORBS did not respond to an email seeking comment, its defenders point out a curious connection between MAPS, AboveNet and anti-spam activist Paul Vixie.

AboveNet is owned by Metromedia Fibre Networks, where Vixie is a senior vice president. Vixie is also a managing member of MAPS, which briefly added ORBS to its "black hole" list of supposed spammers last summer.

More than 20,000 companies subscribe to the MAPS list and routinely block email traffic from companies on the list.

"AboveNet has a perfect right to do this," said spokeswoman for Vixie, Kelly Thompson. But ORBS has its enemies, too.

ORBS has gained a bad reputation among some anti-spam activists, according to David Wright, a Web pioneer who sits on a citizens advisory panel for a bulk emailing company.

"Many people consider ORBS an abusive organisation," Wright said in an email. Aside from probing sites for weaknesses, the group also publishes details that "possibly aid spammers who are looking for just such sites," Wright wrote.

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