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Spam Books Media Book Reviews

Spam Kings 127

Michael Gracie writes "Spamroll is a recently launched blog and information resource on spam, phishing, and other internet security issues, the purpose of which is to bridge the gap between information and discussion among technical professionals, and that targeted for end users. As part of the research for Spamroll, I picked up Spam Kings - The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and @*#?% Enlargements, written by Brian McWilliams and recently released by O'Reilly. , With Spam Kings, Mr. McWilliams has put together a book suitable for shelving next to The DaVinci Code and the Bat Book (Sendmail 2nd edition, by Brian Costales and Eric Allman). It is a compellingly detailed account of the burgeoning of spam, spammers, their foes, and the intricate community that intertwines them." Read on for Gracie's review.
Spam Kings - The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and @*#?% Enlargements
author Brian McWilliams
pages 333
publisher O'Reilly
rating 9
reviewer Michael Gracie
ISBN 0596007329
summary Excellent spam history and reference.

Spam Kings is a pseudo-chronology of the exploits of the biggest spammers of the late nineties and new millennium, following their trail right down to the lunch menu, with the underworld's anti-spam fighters of the day taking the order. The book details the comings and goings of the likes of Sanford Wallace, an early spam king who claimed constitutional authority to send UCE, up to the present-day powerhouses such as Ron Scelson and Scott Richter, whose wealth and influence keeps the heat off of them. [Though Richter's finally gotten some heat where it counts -Ed.] In between, it runs across characters such as Jason Vale, Thomas Cowles, and Rodona Garst, who have all seen some serious time in court and/or jail for their actions, and some, like Brad Bournival, who tangled with the monster called AOL and is still awaiting his fate, and Karen Hoffman, a one time spam hunter who has turned to "the dark side."

But the real (and underlying) story is about two individuals, Susan Gunn, of NANAE fame, and David Hawke, a former neo-Nazi and notorious spammer who continues to elude the massive AOL lawsuit judgments against him.

The antagonists' and protagonists' paths cross often, but they never seem to directly butt heads. What makes the saga so interesting is that their actions affect each other's lives in profound ways, exemplifying the intensely close-knit nature of the spammer and anti-spam communities that surround them, and sometimes, their disloyalties. Furthermore, the lines between spammer and "anti" sometimes blur beyond natural reason, reflecting the deep knowledge of systems and processes each side attains during their trials and tribulations, and the monetary value of that knowledge in the open (if sometimes seedy) market.

What I found most appealing during the read was the relevancy of events that take place throughout, and the meticulous references to the news of the day. I found myself wondering where I was, how much spam I was getting, and whether I could remember receiving any scurrilous product pitches from the characters within. I am now checking old email archives, just for posterity.

The book ends with an epilogue that outlines what is happening in the spam world, right this very moment. CAN-SPAM doesn't seem to be working, other countries have instituted new laws that are, and people of all shapes and sizes may be complicit in the ongoing problem. The epilogue winds up with a "where are they now" for most of the major characters. Many are retired and/or have moved on to new (but not necessarily unrelated) professions, some are still drowning in legal judgments, while some are...educating your children! But you can be sure others have stepped in to take their places; just check your junk mail folder.

The book also contains an excellent glossary of technical and business terms used throughout. If you are a sys admin who saw the term chickenboner or mainsleaze on a help forum, and are embarrassed to ask what that means, then your bases are covered in this book. If you are a regular everyday email user, and are curious what these "blacklists" and "whitelists" are and what they mean to you, the glossary will again prove very useful during and after your read. The work also contains a deep notes section, which I found extremely helpful -- McWilliams conducted in-depth interviews with many of the characters (and they are characters). And let's not forget the center illustration section, complete with numerous photos of the biggest spammers of all time, at work and at play, as well as some gratuitous mug shots (which I am sure is all you really want to see if you despise spam as much as I do).

I knocked this puppy off in two quiet evenings. While the type is appropriately sized and spaced, and the material not overly technical, what drove me was the fact that the work was a bit of a "page turner" -- I had a hard time putting in down.

In my opinion, Spam Kings is a publication for both the technology/history buff, as well as the everyday email user still wondering where the heck all those Viagra ads in their inboxes really comes from.

Spamroll is the latest creation of Michael Gracie, who thinks spam and phishing represent some of the greatest threats to ecommerce and online world in general. You can purchase Spam Kings - The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and @*#?% Enlargements from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Spam Kings

Comments Filter:
  • Punishment (Score:5, Funny)

    by downward dog ( 634625 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:37PM (#12105010) Homepage

    Anyone else think the best solution to spam is to bring back the stocks []?

    No really, I'm serious.

    • Re:Punishment (Score:3, Informative)

      by stinerman ( 812158 )
      In all seriousness, that would be considered cruel and/or unusual punishment by the Supreme Court.

      But, of course, it would be fun to see.
      • Re:Punishment (Score:3, Insightful)

        In all seriousness, that would be considered cruel and/or unusual punishment by the Supreme Court.

        You're right, of course, but sometimes I wonder why some punishments are considered cruel and unusual. Why is corporeal punishment cruel, but solitary confinement and the death penalty are not?

      • Re:Punishment (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fossa ( 212602 )

        Oh come on, I receive about 50 spam emails per day (which makes me lucky). It wouldn't take long for it to become "usual".

      • For three days the world had watched while chirpsithtra executioners smothered four men slowly to death. In some nations it had even been televised. "Don't you see, we don't *do* things like that. We've got laws against cruel and unusual punishment."

        "How do you deal with cruel and unusual crimes?"

        I shrugged.

        "Cruel and unusual crimes require cruel and unusual punishment. You humans lack a sense of proportion, Rick Schumann."

    • Nah, they should just make the spammers buy Internet stocks. Scott Richter, you must go and buy five million shares of InfoSpace... AT TEN DOLLARS EACH!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:40PM (#12105039)

    With Spam Kings, Mr. McWilliams has put together a book suitable for shelving next to The DaVinci Code

    So that would be the recycling bin?

  • by g0at ( 135364 ) <ben.zygoat@ca> on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:41PM (#12105045) Homepage Journal
    or is it supposed to be read as "Spam Kings - The Real Story Behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and Fucking Bullshit Enlargements"?

    Weird title nonetheless.

  • I can't believe that they have to replace the word penis in the sub-title with "@*#?%". That's political correctness gone overboard.
  • by Mike Markley ( 9536 ) <madhack@madhack . c om> on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:45PM (#12105088)
    Real geeks know we're already up to the 3rd edition of the Bat Book... ;)
    • Ah, yes we do, but real geeks that have been around for a little while bought the 2nd edition when it came out and now just use google to find info on things that have changed since then (or just go directly to That way you can take the money that you save and apply it to other geeky purchases.
    • Re:2nd edition? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by zaphod123 ( 219697 )
      Real geeks have moved on to Postfix or qmail....
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Like it or not, spam IS ecommerce as long as a certain percentage of idiots respond and pony up the due for the advertised product.
  • by Sv-Manowar ( 772313 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:47PM (#12105104) Homepage Journal
    They are playing on the stereotype that all spammers live extremely well off their activities, although this may have been true up until recently, and there are still people making huge amounts of money from it - the reason phising and stuff is becoming more common is because the profits from spam are becoming lower

    You can't just pick up a mailing software, buy a list and sit back and watch the money roll in anymore, so the new kids wanting to be millionaires have to result to more devious tactics

    Let's hope this book realises that. Either way it should be a great read on the huge industry that is/was spamming.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:48PM (#12105115)
    With Spam Kings, Mr. McWilliams has put together a book suitable for shelving next to The DaVinci Code and the Bat Book

    It's pretty impressive when even the poster manages to be OT.
  • I'm in the book (Score:5, Informative)

    by SSpade ( 549608 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:49PM (#12105124) Homepage

    I'm only mentioned once, but it got your attention... Much more importantly I know a lot of people who are mentioned in the book, what they said to Mr McWilliams, and I know a lot of the reality behind the story it pretends to tell.

    Spam Kings is bad fiction, created by a hack reporter. It bears no resemblance to reality, and contradicts statements that were made by those who were interviewed by Brian McWilliams.

    It's something that should really be serialised by the Sunday Sport or the Weekly World News.

    That a publisher like O'Reilly published it is very sad.

    I'd never heard of spamroll before, which in itself says a lot about it given the business I'm in, but this positive review of a book that's widely accepted to be badly written fiction says a lot about its credibility.

    • what they said to Mr McWilliams

      And especially what they didn't say to Mr McWilliams, so he filled in the gaps himself.

    • by artifex2004 ( 766107 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @06:18PM (#12105345) Journal
      Spam Kings is bad fiction

      Ah! I was wondering why the submitter deemed it in the same class as [u]The DaVinci Code[/u].

      (Slashdot won't accept underline markups?)
    • Be specific (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BMcWilliams ( 621149 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @07:22PM (#12105852) Homepage
      Steve, care to produce some specifics about where Spam Kings departs from the historical record? The book is carefully documented/footnoted and is based entirely on fact (court documents, spam samples, chat logs, newsgroup postings, website archives, interviews, etc.). If you really care about getting this bit of Internet history right, you'll submit something to O'Reilly's errata page []. Otherwise, your posting just sounds like sour grapes.
      • Re:Be specific (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You want some factual errors. OK.

        Afterburner did have a signature line claiming he handled spam complaints for Erols.

        AOL didn't use the RBL to filter mail.

        Sam Al of BulkISP didn't call Kelly a bitch, he called another MAPS staffer who was not involved with the RBL, a bitch.

        Sanford Wallace stopped spamming in late '97, long before he started discussions with Jim Nitchals about "going straight" in '98.

        Those are errors that even the laziest intern can disprove in a few minutes. I'm sure they're not the on
    • Steve,

      There is no doubt you, your site and your work deserve lot of credibility in "the business." What I am trying to do with Spamroll is not upend anyone's credibility, but instead try to enhance it by letting the general population know that you actually exist.

      Whether or not Brian's book appeals to the technical set, it will get good shelf space. That means an everyday email user may get curious and pick it up. And that means they will realize a fight IS going on, and quit complaining to their sys
      • There's nothing wrong with yet another blog about spam issues at all. At a brief look yours looks as good as most, better than some.

        Reviewing a book that is simply not an accurate history of events and not commenting on that leaves the impression that you're not aware of the reality of what actually happened during the period the book attempts to document, and that you didn't notice from some of the obvious writing techniques used in the book that it's, at best, a fictionalised account. (Not that there's

    • Re:I'm in the book (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eggplant62 ( 120514 )
      Agreed. I watched the story in Spam Kings unfold, having started reading NANAE regularly a month or two after Shiksaa joined in. Most of the material in the book is derived from NANAE postings from fall of '99 up to early '04. Read the book, then google for some of the subject material. You'll find it on NANAE. It's not all fiction, but don't give much credence to the glamourization of Shiksaa and Hawke. Let's call this a badly spun and/or embellished reference.
  • by CommieOverlord ( 234015 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:50PM (#12105131)
    You're talking about the shelf I keep in my closet to hide all the books I'm embarrassed to have bought?
    • You're talking about the shelf I keep in my closet to hide all the books I'm embarrassed to have bought?

      That's what reviews [] are for ;-)
  • by Embedded Geek ( 532893 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:50PM (#12105132) Homepage
    suitable for shelving next to The DaVinci Code

    So, if this thing is a huge success and still in print two years from now, the Vatican will ask us to stop reading it [], right?

  • by mfh ( 56 )
    Please attach a chapter on Wordpress in the next update of this book.
    • that's only one error. Better add..
      Erratum: For errata read erratum.

      Now that there's more than one, better change it to:
      Errata: For erratum read errata.
    • Gemsites Standards Compliant Open Source CMS

      One could be forgiven for thinking you have an ulterior motive for making this statement :P
      • by mfh ( 56 )
        One could be forgiven for thinking you have an ulterior motive for making this statement :P

        I see what you're saying, but I will suggest that what Wordpress did will have an impact on every other CMS out there. It's changed my perspective. I have to be twice as careful about my CMS and so as a result, this action from Wordpress has cost me valuable time rethinking SEO decisions...etc.
        • Very true.

          If the developers (of WordPress) were having financial difficulties perhaps they should have tried a fund-raising drive. They accept PayPal donations so it's not as if they're above such a thing.
  • by kuriharu ( 756937 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @05:52PM (#12105149)
    I get Spams now that have about 2-3 paragraphs of text that are mostly plagurized poetry, then all of the words that trigger spam filters are in the grpahics included in the HTML email. It's a smart tactic (albeit annoying). It really throws off the spam filters. Does anyone else get a lot of these? Anyway to filter them out?

    They change the bogus names and email addresses, of course, but the ads clearly are coming from the same source.

    • To begin, disable HTML email!

      E-mail should be plain old text.
    • yeah, read and send all your mail in plain text format..
    • how many people do you know that send you html email?

      my rules are set to roundfile anything with html in it that's not from a known source. (some of my online billpayments send html confirmation emails that I want to see)

      • If you correspond with Windows/Outlook users who aren't geeks, I'd say the odds are almost 100% that you'll get HTML email from them.

        In fact, I even send it myself. As a Mac user, it comes out in pretty fonts, and I actually like things that way.

        What might work is to round file HTML email with images since most people aren't going to send that to strangers. Unless, of course, you've placed a personal ad asking for a picture.

        Then you might wind up throwing away all your responses and wondering why nobod
        • If you correspond with Windows/Outlook users who aren't geeks, I'd say the odds are almost 100% that you'll get HTML email from them.

          Except that Outlook will send the message as multipart/alternative, with the text/html segment as well as a text/plain segment. Usually spam emails are just all text/html.
    • What you have to do is run a program that looks at spam a little deeper than just scanning for banned words.
      Windows - run SpamPal
      Linux - run SpamAssassin
      Neither of these cost anything.

      They filter on regular expressions. This gets not only the keyword but all of the misspellings. It also looks for characteristics of spam, including excessive remark tags, presence of Base64 encoding, lack of a plain text section, etc.
      You can also set it up to look for banned spammed-URLS in the body or in the encoded section
      • You can also set up Bayesian filtering. You can ban by country. If you really insist on never ever seeing another spam (at the cost of a few legit emails), run the blackhole filters. You can pick your blackholes.

        I've been thinking of doing that. When I look in the headers, I see most of these mails come from Russia or Romaina or someplace like that. I get a lot of mail from Japan but that's about it. So if I ban certain countries (like the entire former Soviet bloc!) then that will probably help.

        I just

  • "Spam Kings" is Crap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Caveman Og ( 653107 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @06:03PM (#12105244) Homepage Journal
    I'm sorry, but many of my friends, colleagues, associates, and fellow anti-spammers (as the case may be) who were "profiled" by Brian McWilliams for his book, were dealt a raw deal by this putative "reporter".

    The resulting book does not only not tell the full story, but engages in several rounds of make-believe, inventing situations and supposing events and circumstances which could not have been known by the author.

    His focus on Susan Gunn after she explicitly asked NOT to be included in his book has done naught but damage to her.

    The reader will not know this, however, and think that they are getting a front-row seat on what's really going on out there. McWilliams has done a massive disservice in this.

    Far from telling a true story, this book contains much that is fabricated from the whole cloth.

    I should note that while he was writing this book, I had several contacts with Mr. McWilliams. I am thankful that he chose not to include me in it, but rather disgusted at what he managed distort of what others told him.
    • His focus on Susan Gunn after she explicitly asked NOT to be included in his book has done naught but damage to her.

      Do you have anything to back this statement up? I'd like to know more about this.

      • I'd like to know more about this.

        I imagine that her wishes would extend to comments about a review of a book that she asked not to be in in the first place.

        • You would imagine correctly. Nor am I willing to discuss details of private conversations.
        • A link would be nice. If it is a link to a post on Slashdot, a link to the post and something showing that person is who she says she is would be nice.

          No offence is intended to Ms. Gunn by this request, however, the nature of Slashdot and message boards in general lend themselves to not only a certain amount of anonymity, but also make it easier for people to pose as someone else, within limits.

    • Susan Gunn (Score:5, Informative)

      by BMcWilliams ( 621149 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @07:13PM (#12105779) Homepage
      Susan Gunn may be feigning unhappiness with Spam Kings in anti-spammer forums. But in a recent conversation with me, she asked whether she could buy a large quantity of books at a discount, so she could give them away to friends. (This is on top of the three copies I've already sent her gratis.) That doesn't seem like the behavior of someone who thinks she's been "damaged" by a book. Unless, of course, she wants the copies to distribute to her team of 15 attorneys. ;-)
      • Feigning unhappiness with your hack book? Yes, I did ask to buy some books for my friends so they could see what bullpuckey you wrote. The three copies you sent me I offered to pay for. Your repsonse was "no, i have a bunch of them from the publisher'. Send me a bill and I'll gladly pay for those three - I'm sure they'll make good toilet tissue. You, sir, are a lying snake. Despite being told you wanted background on an article on spam you were writing, you then decided to write a book, for which I refused
        • Susan, spare us the grandstanding. If you think I'm such a hack, why did you email me, just last month, to invite me to do a new book about Spamhaus? If you don't like being in Spam Kings, why did you recently email me a photo of you to include in the 2nd edition?

          I know you have mixed feelings about being profiled in the book. I realize you're wary of the Nanae crowd thinking you're a publicity hog. But this bizarre split in your public and private behavior toward me is alarming.

  • Good? (Score:5, Funny)

    by sparkz ( 146432 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @06:04PM (#12105248) Homepage
    With Spam Kings, Mr. McWilliams has put together a book suitable for shelving next to The DaVinci Code and the Bat Book (Sendmail 2nd edition

    The context implies that this is a Good Place For a Book To Be.
    That strikes me as odd though - I recycled both: "DaVinci Code" for being a bunch of unfounded hokum, and Sendmail (the software, and therefore the book) for being too obfuscated for our simple few-dozen-domains setup (switched to Exim a few years ago, haven't looked back)

    Maybe the implication is that I should do with Spam Kings what I do with spam... trash it (er, I mean, read it thoroughly and believe every word???)

    • DaVinci Code is crappy cyber-fiction. just like most sci-fi is a comlete fabrication not rooted in science, DaVinci code is not rooted in reality either. I would not read DVC again.

      It seems from some posts that Spam Kings is similar. The author has chosen his facts to make a nice read for the tech-non-savvy. I won't be buying - thanks to the warning that it belongs alongside DVC.

    • Re:Good? (Score:2, Funny)

      by stev_mccrev ( 712012 )

      "DaVinci Code" for being a bunch of unfounded hokum

      Totally. All these books I keep buying from the fiction section always turn out to be completely made up!

  • Cool (Score:5, Funny)

    by pHatidic ( 163975 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @06:10PM (#12105297)
    I just bought this book after receiving a series of fascinating emails telling me about it.
  • > ... resource on spam, phisting, and other internet ...
    Luckily it doesn't say that but I wonder what that term will eventually get used for.
  • Note that the author of Spam Kings runs a blog too [].

    I was going to make some snide remark of why another spam blog needs to be created when the author of the book this guy is telling us about already has a blog up and running... but I run a spam blog too (anti-spam that is) - so I guess I'd be a bit of a hypocrite there :)
  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @08:05PM (#12106183)
    if it includes a DVDROM full of the latest spamming software and a bunch of emailing addresses to get me started in the biz.
  • by gm0e ( 872436 ) on Thursday March 31, 2005 @08:15PM (#12106233)
    This guy started a dance club in rural New Hampshire after he "oficially" got out of the spam business. The funny thing is that every month or so he mass emails all of the University of New Hampshire students advertising his scummy club by pretending to be a girl talking about the place. At one point I sent him a snide reply "Why don't you just go back to spamming professionally?" I can't find his response but it was something to the effect that he has more fun doing it unprofessionally.
  • IANAL, that we have all this wonderfully detailed information about spammers, how do we use it to have them locked up for 20 years or so with their very own girlfriend named Spike? ;-)
  • Is there any mention of the following luminaries:
    Alan Ralsky
    6747 Minnow Pond Dr.
    W. Bloomfield, MI 48322

    Laura Betterly
    717 Weathersfield Dr.
    Dunedin, FL 34698-7437
    (just keepin' the memory alive... ;-) )
    • Is this [] Ralsky's house?

      I know from the Tiger-2004fe dataset that the street address should be along that section of road.
      From the pictures [] that are out there, it looks like it might be it.

      It's hard to tell for sure. It might be the one to the north, which was still under construction as of 2002-04-10.

      Looks like a pretty nice area, although since the wooded area behind it appears to be floodplain/swampland, I'll bet there are a lot of annoying bugs during the summer.
  • it included the spammers' home addresses.

"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." -- Mark Twain