Promote Responsible Net Commerce: Stamp Out Spam!

Why I hate AGIS.NET

Update! AGIS has recently added an AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) that specifically prohibits their customers from spamming. While a number of spammers are still connected via AGIS, it has been indicated that spammers' contracts will not be renewed. Further, AGIS has disconnected a number of spammers from their network. The amount of spam I have been receiving from AGIS has dropped significantly, though it still has not disappeared.

AGIS is to be commended for (finally) taking an anti-spam policy. It should be noted that AGIS has always claimed that by providing connectivity to spammers, it was doing something to help solve the spam problem. Their solution was to give as many spammers as possible connectivity through their own networks, under the condition that they play by the rules. The rules included such things as not forging SMTP header information, not using unsuspecting third-party mail hosts for relaying, and honoring removal requests.

There are several problems with this approach:

  1. This assumes that spammers are respectable business people who will play by the rules;
  2. This ignores the simple fact that it is unethical to automatically subscribe people to lists.

Unfortunately, those of us who warned AGIS about the folly of this action were proven right. By and large, spammers have proven that they cannot be trusted, and will essentially do as they please, at the expense of everyone else, even claiming that their rights to free speech are being violated by those who seek to stem their flow of spam. (As an interesting aside, even in lands where laws guarantee the ability to speak freely, you won't find any laws guaranteeing that your speech will be heard. If you have something to say, go build a web site. Have a blast. But don't think that you've got some sort of inalienable right to my mail spool.)

I'm cautiously optimistic that AGIS is finally cleaning up their act and behaving in a more responsible manner. Thanks to everyone who complained to AGIS (repeatedly), and made their investors and/or non-spam customers aware of the problem. Remember, the point behind our actions must be to educate, and help people understand why abuse of the Internet cannot be tolerated.

The following is my original "Why I hate AGIS" rant. I've left it here primarily for historical reasons.

A number of people have asked me what the following, which is in my sigblock, means:
Pull AGIS.NET's plug!

What follows is an explanation of why I refuse to do business with AGIS, or anyone who does business with them. AGIS customers take note: your provider's irresponsible activity on the 'net might very well hinder your ability to connect to other people on the Internet.

Who Is AGIS?

AGIS (Apex Global Internet Services) is a backbone Internet service provider. They are rejecting the traditional model of ISPs sharing some responsibility for what their customers do on the 'net, and allow anyone to do anything. The most notorious spammers, as well as lots of spammers who only wish they could be so well-known, are all customers of AGIS.

Why is it that they're all customers of AGIS? Because AGIS is the only provider that will give them connectivity. Because the activity of spammers is selfish, unethical, intrusive, uncreative, and contrary to the entire spirit which built the Internet and defined its operation for decades, these imbeciles have found themselves in a rather perpetual state of no connectivity.

That is, of course, until AGIS decided that it was not responsible for policing the activities of its customers. Nevermind the fact that it has always been the responsibility of "upstream" providers to make sure that people to whom they provide connectivity don't abuse or harm the network. The message from AGIS seems to be ``as long as you pay your bills to us, you can abuse the Internet all you want.''

It's a real shame that a backbone provider -- which should know better -- has decided to take such a reckless and carefree position.

What Is Spam? Why Is It Bad?

``Spam,'' in the context of the Internet, typically refers to mass email, or mass postings of messages, usually commercial adverts of some sort. Use of the term in this way is a reference to a skit on the brilliant Monty Python's Flying Circus in which a lady recites available menu options, which ends up going something like ``spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam...'' The idea is that the same thing is being sent over and over and over. Perhaps if the Monty Python crew decided to make fun of something else, what we know as spam might have been known as something else entirely. (Probably whatever that woman said over and over...)

I have written a more general Why Spam Sucks that considers why spam is bad. Briefly, the bottom line is that spammers seek to exploit the economics of the Internet for their own short-term personal gains, at the expense of the Internet community as a whole and individuals and organizations whose computing resources are leeched. Further, this sort of behavior contributes significantly to many problems that are experienced on the Internet as a whole. And there's one more reason why it's stupid: Bulk Email Does Not Work.

Why AGIS Might Not Be Able To Provide Such Great Service

Historically, whenever there is a significant problem with a given network playing well with the other Internet-connected networks, the problem has been resolved by simply refusing to talk to the misbehaving network. For example, if I've got a string of people from a network provider called trying to crack one of my machines, and won't cooperate with me in resolving the situation, I could configure my routers, hosts, etc., to simply refuse to talk to those hosts. This completely eliminates connectivity between that network and mine. We can't see each others' web pages, can't exchange email, or anything.

AGIS has become that network that doesn't play well with others. Specifically, AGIS has become a haven for spammers, those dedicated to the proposition of pushing junk you don't need right to your email box -- at your expense.

Already, many sites are actively filtering incoming email, with the intention of identifying, eliminating, and complaining about each piece of spam intended for their users. Spammers, although typically fairly dim-witted, do adapt their methods from time to time. The ability to continue to successfully filter incoming spam requires attention from time to time. This is the last thing that already-overloaded system and network administrators want to deal with.

A quick solution to the problem would be blocking all email from AGIS.NET. The more spam that originates from AGIS, the more tempting this option becomes. (The only reason why there is any hesitation is because AGIS does have some non-spamming customers, and we don't like to break things that work. However, as soon as the headache in dealing with worthless garbage from AGIS-fed spammers gets bad enough, the folks that have to deal with it will break that link.)

If you are an AGIS customer, this means that you won't be able to email anyone at a site that has instituted such blocking. If AGIS continues on its current path, we will reach this point, and it won't be much longer before we're there. As more sites block AGIS-fed networks, the number of sites you can email will be increasingly limited. Given that email is the primary reason many organizations are on the net in the first place, this seems pretty severe.

So What's the Solution?

The problem is that AGIS, by rejecting the traditional roles of responsibility for upstream providers, is essentially condoning spamming. The practice of spamming is having a detrimental effect on the quality of the Internet, on the ability of individuals and organizations to serve their own email needs, and on the value of email.

The solution is for AGIS to take a responsible position on spam, thereby following the lead of every other backbone provider on the Internet. Specifically, customers who spam should have their access and accounts immediately terminated, and sites using spam to advertise should not be allowed to remain connected.

Until AGIS gets its act together, more and more spammers will flock to it, since its the only place they can get and keep connectivity. And with each new spam that comes from an AGIS-fed network, the likelihood that another organization is refusing to accept mail from AGIS increases.

To be clear, I am not opposed to commercial activity on the Internet. What I do oppose is self-serving, short-sighted activity that hurts the Internet and/or its users. Spam is exactly this sort of activity.

See Fight Spam on the Internet! for more information on spam, why it's evil, and how to deal with it.

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C Matthew Curtin
Last modified: Mon Dec 8 22:44:30 EST 1997