On Spamhaus and Anonymity

A number of months ago, Steve Linford of Spamhaus replied to columnist Ken Magill on the topic of why Spamhaus editors don't typically provide their names. I highly recommend reading it, then coming back to my post to get my thoughts on this.

This occasionally comes up at the day job, clients can get (understandably) frustrated that they don't necessarily know who they're dealing with, why all communication must be via email, and that the Spamhaus people don't seem have a hotline you can call and get answered by a live person.

I've talked to a few of the Spamhaus folks, in email and at various conferences, and they've mentioned to me multiple times that there are real threats out there, real criminal gangs, who would probably take physical action against Spamhaus people, given half a chance. They tell me they get various threats periodically, and I don't doubt it. I've even observed it once myself. Way back in 2003, I saw an alleged spammer come to an FTC event on spam law in Washington, DC and start screaming at people who worked for Spamhaus.

Sometimes people are just crazy. Just "all mouth." Maybe they wouldn't follow through on their crazy threats. I hope so, because I've got my own "hate pages" out there, too. One where an angry spammer made up this stuff about how I "make a woman do my fighting for me" because he couldn't get me on the phone, 12 years ago when I worked for a spam filterer. Or the guy who thinks that it's appropriate to call me a pedophile because he doesn't like that I talked about some specific spam issue on my blog. And I don't really do anything but blog. Can you imagine how much more and how many more crazy people would hate me if I was actually blocking their spam?

A representative from a known brand sending mail through a known, respected email service provider is a far cry from a crazy person. They're generally good folks all around, for sure. They invariably ask if Spamhaus is painting them with the same "crazy brush" by declining to provide names and contact information. They sometimes assume so, and this makes them upset. But, I always explain that I don't think that is the case. My guess is that it's not that Spamhaus is painting them all with the same brush. My guess is that Spamhaus is just being smart. The fewer people that know the backend details, the smaller the chance there is that some of it could leak to somebody, then to somebody else, then to somebody else, and then on to a really bad guy who might try to attack somebody.

Heck, I wish I knew more about the internal workings of Spamhaus myself, but I don't really fault them for playing it close to the vest.
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