Microsoft Security Notices: A Double Standard on Spam?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-08-09 Print this article Print

What exactly is Microsoft's policy towards spammers? Security Supersite Editor Larry Seltzer wonders if the company really authorized a known spammer to send out security notices in violation of its own policy?

One of the mailing lists I read carefully is SecurityFocuss excellent Focus-MS list. In the aftermath of Microsofts disclosure in July of the infamous RPC/DCOM vulnerability and its patch release (known in MS security jargon as MS03-026), an interesting discussion arose on Focus-MS about Microsofts efforts to publicize the disclosure and patch.

A reader said he had received a broadcast e-mail, apparently from Microsoft, reminding him of the MS03-026 problem and patch. But the message came from This raised his suspicion, since the details of the message header looked as if the message hadnt originated with Microsoft.
When he and others on the list started investigating the matter further it got even fishier: Surf to and you arrive at a page on the site of
Confusion reigned on the thread for a while, but it didnt take long for someone to find
Microsofts explanation of its relationship with Digital Impact. It seems that Microsoft uses Digital Impact to send out some of their broadcast mail messages. Microsofts explanation also calls Digital Impact "the premier provider of online direct marketing solutions for enterprises."

Now, Digital Impact has a bit of a reputation though among e-mail and newsgroup administrators. If you read the* newsgroups and search for Digital Impact, youll find a lot of references (and many thanks to Thor Larholm for the reference and other contributions to the thread).

At the same time, other things were wrong with the message. Firstly, it wasnt digitally signed, in violation of Microsofts own policies; in fact, Microsoft warns users to look for this as a sign of hoax messages. In addition, the links in the message to the patch site give the appearance of going straight to Microsofts site, but in fact redirect through a link at It uses some funny code, indicating that Digital Impact is tracking users response to the message. This is also a major no-no! Heres an example of the code: <A HREF=""></A> A Microsoft rep on the newsgroup said the message was not a hoax.

I might be naive here, but Im inclined to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. After all, it is a big company and whoever is in charge of dealing with spam doesnt know about this relationship. But on the other hand, its hard to look at Microsofts description of their relationship with Digital Impact and believe they didnt know who they were dealing with. "THE premier provider of online direct marketing solutions for enterprises"? Sounds like Internet marketer code words for "spammer" to me.

Security Supersite Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

More from Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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