Welcome to the wild and wacky story of the strangest bunch of spammer scammers on the Internet: those wacky folks at Robin Hood Software whose overpriced "Evidence Eliminator" software is spammed on every Internet forum on a regular basis. This is a tale of spammers and spam, and an unlikely spam fighter who has learned that spammers suck even worse than most people think. And in the end, it's the story of how spam fighters around the globe support each other when the spammers decide to go after their critics and detractors.
It all started back in June 2000. At the time, I was researching encryption algorithms for use in a new software product. There was this product called 'Evidence Eliminator', produced by a company named 'Robin Hood Software', being hyped on the sci.crypt and alt.privacy newsgroups. Curious, I went to the web site of the publisher of the software. After being subjected to flash animation, popups threatening me with jail if I didn't buy Evidence Eliminator, and no way to contact the makers of the product other than a web form, I decided: "These people aren't credible."
And said so. From my work account. Big mistake.
I didn't realize I was dealing with spammers. I thought they'd be interested in seeing what an industry veteran thought. But there was no response to my message on the sci.crypt newsgroup. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it. I went on with my life.
But Andy Churchill, one of the principals of Robin Hood Software, wasn't so eager to let go. Imagine my surprise when, in early 2001, I ran a Google search for my name and discovered that I was part of a vast conspiracy by some strange New World Order collection of villains to destroy the makers of "the best security product on the market"!
Naturally I wasn't happy. And as someone who isn't shy about expressing his opinion, I expressed it, sending EMAIL to Robin Hood Software demanding that they remove any mention of me from their site. Andy Churchill of Robin Hood Software admits to have received that EMAIL, but says, "we deleted it". There was no response from Robin Hood Software.
So I did what comes naturally to any Linux geek: I put up a web page. Which Robin Hood Software swiftly (and in violation of my copyright) duplicated on their own web site, with "False." (no explanation) beside each of my points as to why you shouldn't buy their software. And as time went by and, thanks to the readers of my site, I accumulated more and more evidence about Robin Hood Software's activities, including evidence that they were behind the "push ICQ" spamming of their product (an EMAIL to their affiliates urging them to do that kind of spamming), Robin Hood Software's web site became yet more lurid, even to the point of duplicating a copyrighted gag photo (cropping out Agent Binks) on their own web site. These people don't appear to be too stable -- definite candidates for the aluminum foil beanie award.
In early 2002 I purchased the domain name 'evidence-eliminator-sucks.com', and did a major overhaul of the web site to try to organize the by-then large amount of information that I'd accumulated about Robin Hood Software and its activities. By that time it was clear that these weren't nice people. Deceptive claims in their advertising, huge amounts of spam originating from their affiliates, a browser hijack virus that hijacks people's web browsers and redirects them to the Evidence Eliminator home page, and their continued attempts to disparage their critics and competitors on their aptly-named Dis-Information page pretty much are a Major Clue. I also launched the "Evidence Eliminator Sucks Conspiracy" -- both a statement on what I feels is Robin Hood Software's paranoia in their rantings about a "vast conspiracy" out to "get" them, and an attempt to get other security-oriented sites to link back to the new domain so that when people went to Google to look up Robin Hood Software, the evidence-eliminator-sucks.com site would come up near the top.
The effort appears to have paid off. The evidence-eliminator-sucks.com site is regularly 3rd or 4th from the top on Google's list of results for the term "evidence eliminator". The crew at Robin Hood Software is so concerned that they have put out a special warning that greets everyone who surfs in from Google. And, on July 17, 2003, at approximately 10:15am, I got a call from my upstream service provider: They had received a letter on lawyer's letterhead, demanding that this service provider quit publishing the site.
It didn't take long to establish what was going on. In a meeting at the ISP's offices, the ISP's operations manager viewed the evidence-eliminator-sucks.com site, viewed the www.evidence-eliminator.com site, and quickly realized that a) these were "not nice people", and b) these people had no case. Unlike in the given example case of Godfrey vs. Demon Internet LLC, the ISP wasn't publishing the site. The site never touched any of the ISP's computers. All the ISP was providing was the upstream for the DSL line, the site was published on a computer on my own home network. On the other hand, even though the threat was nonsense, just showing up in an English court to get a lawsuit dismissed would cost thousands of dollars. What to do?
The eventual decision was to take the site down, replace it with the legal notice, and start spreading the word. I started contacting the various members of the "conspiracy" (anybody who had ever linked to the site), looking for people who could host mirrors of the site so that it couldn't be shut down again via a single lawyer nastygram. Word quickly spread in the news.admin.net-abuse hierarchy, and numerous people stepped forward to host a mirror. I also made copies of the site to two free webhosting companies and posted links in various newsgroups. Finally, on July 19 2003, two days after the takedown notice, the site was back up, hosted on several mirrors scattered around the Internet.
So what have I learned from this experience? Well:
What comes next? Well, I guess they sue me. I'm not looking forward to it. This whole situation is a distraction from my main chore right now -- looking for a new job (my employer laid off their entire U.S. workforce a few weeks ago). On the other hand, if they do so, you can bet I won't take it lying down. You mess with a Cajun boy from Louisiana, you better expect more of the same coming right back at you -- with interest. Considering that they've violated my copyright thousands of times by distributing my copyrighted photograph, somehow I think actually filing a lawsuit would be as stupid as anything else this particular bunch of spammer scammers has done.
- Spammers suck. They really, really suck. They are lower than snakes' bellies. They are nutcases with no morals, who need to take their meds more often.
- Documenting spammers' antics does hurt them. After all, they wouldn't have come after me if my site had not been hurting them, right?
- The international nature of the Internet is both a boon and a curse. You'll notice that the spammers are careful to only defame Americans. There isn't a single Brit on their paranoid listing of the "vast conspiracy" out to get them. That's because they know it's too expensive to file a cross-Atlantic lawsuit against them. On the other hand, that also protects those of us on this side of the pond from their lawsuits too.
- Spammers are really, really, really stupid. I offered to take down evidence-eliminator-sucks.com for free. All they had to do was take all mention of me off their site. I mean, what do I care about what Windows losers get scammed out of? But no, they had to go off and hire a solicitor to spew out a cart00ney, and now it's too late for that: the site is now hosted on several servers scattered around the Internet, and I couldn't make the site go away now even if I wanted to.
- Nobody, and I mean nobody, loves spammers. I got so many offers of mirrors for the site that I could have added two more (but stopped at three because my update script started getting slow, between updating those three and updating the tripod.com off-site mirror). Their EMAIL'ed complaints to the ISP of one of the mirror sites resulted in a warning from the abuse department at that ISP: said their abuse manager, "you're too easy on those spammers, you need to hit them harder! Considered yourself warned about the content of your site."
But then, who ever said spammers were smart?
- Eric Lee Green, Phoenix, Arizona, July 20, 2003