In tracking the source
of spam, Aaron Kornblum ’93 must wend his way back to the real person duping
(Courtesy Aaron Kornblum ’93)
Aaron Kornblum ’93 loves the chase. Not through the streets, or even
through mounds of paper. For Kornblum, a senior attorney in charge of Microsoft’s
Internet safety-enforcement group, the chase is about tracking cybercriminals
through a virtual maze of corrupted computers, fake identities, and spamming
scams that send millions of bogus offers to people every day.
“It’s very important to go after the people hitting the send
button, because at the end of the day there’s a real person trying to separate
you from your money,” says Kornblum, a politics major at Princeton.
Kornblum leads Microsoft’s program against the spammers and phishers
who plague Microsoft’s e-mail service, Hotmail. Spammers send billions
of unwanted messages to Internet users, advertising products ranging from fake
diet pills to hot stock tips. Phishers lure Internet users into giving away their
credit-card information by sending them something resembling a real bank statement
and threatening to close their accounts.
When Kornblum looks at spam he is looking for patterns; he wants to
find out who’s sending Hotmail the most junk. Then he’ll contact
private Internet service providers to see who’s paying for the connections
behind fake links. He works with state attorneys general and international law
enforcement to track cybercriminals from Iowa to Africa. Sometimes spammers work
through a series of computers to send the e-mails out, so it’s harder to
trace the spam back to one source.
“Chasing down spammers and phishers is a lot about link analysis,
finding people who don’t want to be found,” says Kornblum, who is
based in Redmond, Wash.
Kornblum has helped hunt down some of the biggest spammers, including
Scott Richter, based in Colorado. Richter sent out 38 billion spams a year, using
more than 500 compromised Internet addresses in 35 countries. In 2004 alone,
Richter’s company made $19.6 million. But he lost out after he was sued
by Microsoft. He settled with the company for $7 million. As long as people buy
things over the Internet, Kornblum says, there will be spammers and phishers
By Anne Ruderman ’01
Anne Ruderman ’01 is a graduate student at Yale University.