Michael Lerner

Monday - Dec 13, 2010

I hate spam. Not the canned luncheon meat; the junk e-mail messages that clog my Inbox. I’ve had the same e-mail address since 1995, so you can imagine how many mailing lists I’m on and how much spam I receive. Despite using two spam filters–one on the mail server and another with Outlook–hundreds of messages still manage to sneak through every day.

So it was great news to learn that Oleg Nikolaenko,  a 23-year-old Russian, had been apprehended by the FBI while attending an auto show in Las Vegas. Why? Because Nikolaenko has been called the “King of Spam.” Investigators claim that he’s been responsible for as much as one-third of the world’s spam, sending out 10 billion–yes, BILLION–messages a day.

Nikolaenko accomplished this dastardly deed by creating a vast botnet–an army of over 500,000 computers that he secretly commandeered (yours could be a soldier in the Russian’s army), using them to spam the world with pitches for phony products, like counterfeit Rolex watches. Jody M. Smith, the Rolex scammer. paid Nikolaenko to send out his messages; he was apprehended last year and helped authorities nail Nikolaenko.

The international sting operation reads like a good spy story. If you’re a fan of the genre, read how it went down in the Wall Street Journal.

Nikolaenko is now under Federal indictment for violating the CAN-SPAM Act, America’s anti-spam law. He’s being held without bail and faces a $250,000 fine and three years in prison. But given how much money this guy has already raked in from his spam operation–a least $465,000 according to the FBI, and probably much, much more–it’s just a slap on the wrist.

If Nikolaenko is convicted and sent to the pen, my advice to prison officials: Don’t give this guy access to a computer. My advice to you: Watch the video to get tips on protecting your computer from being Shanghaied into a botnet.