Net bullying backfires

After the usual round of flaming and abuse, “HeLLfiReZ” disappeared from the newsgroup, but his presence was replaced by a massive mail-bombing run.

My first real encounter with the seamy underbelly of computing occurred when I reviewed an antivirus product called InVircible.

I stumbled upon a world of unsavoury individuals, from the dyslexic virus writers themselves to unscrupulous antivirus developers who thought nothing of using blatant lies and even viruses to promote their products.

The “punishment” for the unfavourable review was empty threats of legal action, plus a slew of libellous comments in internet newsgroups like alt.comp.virus. It was just bark without bite, though, and made the developers and distributors of InVircible look completely silly in the eyes of the public.

I wasn’t the first InVircible reviewer targeted in such a fashion. The antivirus industry publication The Virus Bulletin had the InVircible developer foaming at the mouth after showing that the product didn’t live up to its marketing hype. Antivirus luminary Dr Vesselin Bontchev dissected InVircible to prove that it wasn’t much good. Then, after the review was published, the InVircible developer demanded the University of Hamburg kick Bontchev out, and he also apparently contacted the then West German Embassy in Tel Aviv demanding that the review be withdrawn.

Naturally, all that this bullying accomplished was even more bad publicity for InVircible.

Trojan Lockdown

So, when Keith “PCHelp” Little wrote a review of an anti-Trojan horse program called Lockdown 2000 in 1999 (www.nwi.net/~pchelp), developed under the auspices of former InVircible salesman Michael Paris, I expected he might get roundly and rudely flamed, but nothing else.

Obviously having learnt nothing of the past, Paris and Roger LeClerc (who was also involved in selling InVircible) sued Keith Little in a New Hampshire district court last year over the review.

If Paris and LeClerc were hoping to intimidate Little, they were badly mistaken. Having learnt of the case and of the distress it was causing Little (who had to spend time and money preparing a defence), outraged people all over the world rallied to support him.

A legal defence fund was set up in less than two days, as well as www.pchelpers.org, an umbrella website with several mirrors worldwide, to help focus the support effort. Many IT press illuminati took up the case, including Bill Machrone of PC Magazine and Fred Langa.

Steve Gibson of SpinRite fame has been especially supportive, setting up discussion forums and newsgroups to help publicise the case. By now, Little’s review of Lockdown 2000 is mirrored on websites all over the world, something that probably wouldn’t have happened had Paris not sued him. Once again, the message was loud and clear: intimidation and bullying tactics don’t work, and if you try them, you will be hoist for miles on your own petards.

Hellfire Damnation

However, the above elementary fact is beyond the comprehension of high-tech morons. When Wayne Langlois — who wrote the anti-Trojan app TDS — criticised the exaggerated marketing claims for Lockdown 2000 in a grc.com newsgroup, one of the SubSeven Trojan authors,“HeLLfiReZ”, appeared and put forward his comparative review of TDS and Lockdown 2000, in which the latter app receives an entirely complimentary treatment.

The review was far from objective, as it used 90-day old signatures for TDS. With updated signatures, TDS had no problems detecting Trojans. Furthermore, there appears to be a direct connection between HeLLfiReZ and Lockdown 2000. Apparently, HeLL-fiReZ works for Lockdown Corporation, something neither he nor Paris has denied.

After the usual round of flaming and abuse, “HeLLfiReZ” disappeared from the newsgroup, but his presence was replaced by a massive mailbombing run against Little and two of his supporters shortly after. Thousands of emails flooded their email accounts.

Wayne Langlois was also singled out, through a spam run which had his name, company and product forged into it. The spam was sent out in massive quantities via open mail relays in India and Hong Kong. The messages were written in a semi-literate style, reminiscent of HeLLfiReZ postings to the grc.com newsgroup.

Unfortunately for HeLLfiReZ, neither Wayne nor Keith were fazed by the attacks. Instead, once it became public knowledge that the spamming/mailbombing was a revenge attack, it only added to the negative publicity for Paris and Lockdown 2000. This become especially true after Michael Paris posted a message in the grc.com newsgroup and on his website, denying all involvement in the spam run. The message is quite hilarious, written in tortuous legalese as it is, and didn’t do much to restore Paris’ credibility with the newsgroup readers. In fact, Paris’ only supporter in the newsgroup appears to be a certain “Ðåfüñk”, whose moniker is found in conjunction with sites like internetterrorists.org, DeathWarez Ltd and www.haqerz.com and also with the SubSeven Trojan.

Many people keenly await the outcome of the libel case against Keith Little, but few think Keith stands the remotest chance of losing it, thanks to his adversaries’ masterful self-destruction in public.

juha_saarinen@idg.co.nz

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Juha Saarinen

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