Microsoft Security Notices: A Double Standard on Spam?

 
 
By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-08-09
 
 
 

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 windowssecurity@email.microsoft.com. 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 email.microsoft.com 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 news.admin.net-abuse.* 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 email.microsoft.com. 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="http://email.microsoft.com/m/s.asp?HB9706797779X2612303X228387X">
http://www.microsoft.com/security/security_bulletins/ms03-026.asp</A>

A Microsoft rep on the microsoft.public.security 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.

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