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Hot off the Press - News and Comment
November 30th 2004

Lycos Screensaver Spams the Spammers
by Erika Morphy and TEE Tech Lab

Getting their Attention
The European Internet portal Lycos has developed something that just about every e-mail user has fantasized about at one time or another: a way to spam spammers.

Lycos is offering a screensaver that repeatedly requests data from Web sites that use spam-email to market their goods and services. The software essentially allows recipients of spam to band together in order to clog the bandwidth of the servers that run these Web sites.

The screensaver can be downloaded from www.makelovenotspam.com.

Test Case in Sweden
The screensaver was quietly rolled out in Sweden earlier this month, to rave success, Lycos spokesperson Kay Oberbeck told NewsFactor. "So far, it has been downloaded 80,000 times, which is phenomenal for us," he says. In some cases, according to reports, the response times of the targeted servers have been increase as much as 85 percent.

Another advantage to users -- besides the inherent satisfaction of a little revenge -- is that the requests sent are done under the umbrella of the URL itself. "When the server management notices that capacity has dropped and it does a check to see where the requests are coming from," Oberbeck explains, "all he will see is wwww.makelovenotspam.com."
On December 1st, screensavers localized for the other European countries in which Lycos operates will go live.

Sending a Message
Lycos, however, does not want to take out the spam servers completely, Oberbeck says. Therefore the software has a health check mechanism that will stop the flow of requests when the servers' capacity becomes severely constrained.

"Our main intention is to make spam a less attractive marketing tool for spammers by significantly slowing down their bandwidth."
Makelovenotspam also sends a message to spammers, he says, that the vast majority of recipients are truly fed up. Because spam is so

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cost-effective, even if less than 1 percent of recipients respond, it is worth it to companies -- despite the legions of consumers they have annoyed along the way.

This new tool, though, Oberbeck says, is a way to show the spam server owners that sending spam may be more costly than they anticipated.


BUT! It screws up your computer too
We installed the Lycos screen saver on one of our test Windows XP PC's running an average AMD Athlon XP2400+. The installation is simple, but that's about all.

While the screen saver runs fine, showing you who's being DOS attacked and the effect, it also appears to screw up your own ability to surf the net, even when it's not running!

Wrost yet is that there is no Unistallation application installed in the Windows Add/Remove Control Panel. You better set a restore point before installing this Lycos Screen Saver, just incase you don't like it.

 UPDATE! 12-04-2004
The Web portal Lycos Europe on Friday terminated a spam-fighting campaign that had been criticized as a breach of Internet civility.

The decision follows complaints from security experts that Lycos was acting as a vigilante and could potentially harm legitimate Web sites by distributing a screensaver program that aims to overwhelm what Lycos defines as spam servers.

Lycos spokesman Kay Oberbeck said the "Make Love Not Spam" campaign was always meant to be temporary. He said Lycos decided to stop it solely because the company felt satisfied the program had managed to raise awareness and spark discussion.

About 100,000 people had downloaded the free screensaver. When a computer running the screensaver was idle, the program sent bogus traffic to alleged spam sites designated by Lycos, increasing bandwidth costs for the sites' operators.

Those screensavers will no longer send such traffic because Lycos disabled the site list, Oberbeck said.


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