By Russell Brown, Auckland
IDGNet New Zealand
Thursday, 24 May 2001
Xtra and Actrix yesterday won a High Court injunction to get themselves off the ORBS anti-spam blacklist operated by Alan Brown - but it may not do them much good.
ORBS (Open Relay Behaviour-modification System) is a blacklist of IP addresses relating to open smtp relays, which can be abused by spammers to send unsolicited commercial e-mail. Hundreds of organisations subscribe to the list, including Bigfoot.com and at least one other large free mail provider. They reject e-mail from from any IP address listed in ORBS.
But ORBS listings can also be added manually for reasons other than the operation of open relays. Xtra and Actrix yesterday told the Palmsterston North High Court that Alan Brown, the Manawatu Internet Services director in charge of the service, had been listing other companies on the basis of personal disputes he had with the companies involved, or their customers. KPMG also gave evidence, saying it had been similarly affected.
"We believe the listing on ORBS to be unjust and relating to issues other than open relays or spam," Xtra marketing manager Chris Thompson told IDGNet last night. "The customers shouldn't be used as footballs."
Brown - who is still awaiting judgement on a separate defamation case brought by former Domainz CEO Patrick O'Brien - says he has no choice but to comply with the Hugh Court injunction. But he has posted a notice listing multiple IP addresses and netblocks associated with Xtra and Actrix to newsgroups and to his largest customers, who he expects to manually block them.
Fewer than half the IP addresses listed in Brown's posting appear to be currently listed on ORBS, meaning that if his customers do block all of them, customers of both Xtra and Actrix will be in a worse position than they were before the injunction.
Of the addresses that do currently appear in the ORBS database, one Actrix server is listed as a "delivery point for domainz.net.nz - attacks on ORBS and ORBS hosters."
Thompson says that shows Brown is penalizing Actrix as part of his well-publicised feud with Domainz. Brown says the listing relates to denial of service attacks against ORBS in March, which used the Domainz server and came through Actrix.
The reason for listing given against smtpout.telecom.co.nz is "Spam support services. Cartooney threats." Others bear the entry :"direct spam source. hitting ORBS traps, attacks on ORBS, cartooney threats from email@example.com (3 November 2000)".
Brown says Telecom is "in there for a number of reasons revolving around open relays and hostility toward dealing with the problem."
He is unrepentant about adding addresses for reasons other than the operation open mail relays: "ORBS policy is that if you threaten ORBS you'll be manually listed," he says. "Telecom have been threatening me with legal action for two years."
Thompson claims Brown's use of ORBS relates to a financial dispute Brown has with Telecom.
The activities of organisations which compile anti-spam lists have been controversial lately. Brad Baker, an administrator at the US-based company AmericanISP.net, is behind an organisation called stoporbs.org, which he describes as an organisation of companies, non-profits, individuals, and other internet enthusiasts who are fed up with the way ORBS controls email on the internet."
Baker says ORBS "has become more of a personal vendetta list rather than a resourceful internet tool to reduce the ammount of SPAM on the net. Creating more abuse than good, ORBS has blocked thousands of mail servers which do not and never have had open relays. Many server administrators have had to take extreme, costly, and unnecessairy measures to re-gain the ability to send mail."
Like Xtra, AmericanISP has "cartooney threats" listed among the reason for entry in the ORBS database.
MAPS RBL, a similar organisation with which ORBS is in perpetual feud, has been strongly criticised by civil liberties groups including Peacefire.org, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It appears that MAPS has been going even further than ORBS, in encouraging the blocking of not only email but Web traffic from organisations it lists.