Microsoft takes down major spam network

Microsoft recently helped the federal government take down a network of roughly 1 million malware-infected computers capable of sending billions of spam messages advertising fake pharmaceuticals, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

The software giant said Thursday it joined federal law enforcement officials in seizing hardware from hosting facilities across the country in order to shut down the Rustock botnet, which uses a virus to infect computers that are later used to send spam messages without the owner's knowledge.

"Bot-herders infect computers with malware in a number of ways, such as when a computer owner visits a website booby-trapped with malware and clicks on a malicious advertisement or opens an infected e-mail attachment," said Richard Boscovich, senior attorney with Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit

"It’s like a gang setting up a drug den in someone’s home while they’re on vacation and coming back to do so every time the owner leaves the house, without the owner ever knowing anything is happening."

The raids are part of a civil lawsuit filed by Microsoft against the unnamed operators of the botnet. The federal judge unsealed the lawsuit on Thursday at the request of the software giant.

Rustock is believed to be one of the world's largest spam networks, capable of sending up to 30 million spam messages per day. Much of content they generate attempts to lure consumers into purchasing counterfeit versions of drugs such as Viagra. Viagra manufacturer Pfizer worked with Microsoft during the months-long investigation.

White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel's first set of legislative recommendations released this week asks Congress to crack down on online sales of counterfeit drugs by increasing the maximum prison sentence from 15 to 20 years.