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Largo's E-Mail System Junked

January 23, 2001 

LARGO — If you have been trying to send an e-mail to the city and getting it returned, it isn't because employees are too busy to read what you have to say.

Several Internet service providers have blacklisted the city, refusing to carry electronic mail heading to or from Largo's computers.

What did Largo do to create such ire? Nothing. The issue is what someone did to Largo.

Without authorization, a mobile-phone company in Spain used Largo's e-mail to send thousands of junk-mail messages advertising its business. Internet providers reacted by refusing to handle mail carrying a address.

City officials noticed the problem early last week when some e-mail they were sending was not getting through.

"It's something new for us," said Kim Adams, the city's Management Services Director. "It's definitely inconvenient and we're trying to get it fixed as soon as possible."

In some cases, city officials have used their personal e-mail addresses to reply to questions from residents.

The company in Spain pirated Largo's address "to fool other systems into accepting their spam," Internet lingo for electronic junk mail, Dave Richards, a city employee who explained the problem in a memo to city employees.

Adams said city employees have tried to find the company, but their efforts have been unsuccessful. The city doesn't even know the company's official name.

"They're trying to conceal their identity," he said. "They're not established companies and there's not really a whole lot we can do" about it.

Largo staffers have blocked the rogue e-mail and are waiting for software to install that would permanently prevent others from infiltrating the city's system.

Paul Robertson, director of risk assessment of TruSecure, a Reston, Va., an Internet security consulting firm, said some companies will look for e-mail addresses that can easily accept the messages.

Robertson said some states have considered legislation to ban spam, but advertisers have successfully fought the proposed bills, believing such laws would be anti-advertising. They also want to continue to use e-mail to advertise, he said.

Civil lawsuits against companies that spam are also hard to win, Robertson said.

"It's going to be hard to prove a legal case," he said. "It's hard to prove damages."

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© 2001; St. Petersburg Times

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