Internet Mailing List Hijinks Target Industry Notables

By: Steve Outing

This weekend I received several subscription requests to the Internet mailing lists that I run -- online-news and online-newspapers -- that looked suspicious. I soon received a warning from members of the List-Managers mailing list that an unknown group of pranksters was at it again: They have been targeting well-known members of the online community and signing them up for about 600 mailing lists, thus filling up the unlucky targets' email boxes with thousands of unwanted messages and forcing them to unsubscribe from all the lists.

Those of you who operate mailing lists as part of your online services will want to be aware of this problem, which currently seems to be restricted to lists that run on the Majordomo mailing list software (as my lists do). The pranksters went into action last weekend, and also in the last week of 1995. So far, about 2 dozen people have been victimized.

Here's what's happening, according to David O'Donnell, Internet feedback/response/information team manager and Listserv manager for America Online:

The pranksters collect list information from hundreds of servers that host Majordomo mailing lists, then send "subscribe" commands to all of the lists in the names of their victims. The subscribe commands are "faked," in that the email address of the victim appears to be the sender of the command -- so most list software will automatically subscribe the faked address. (On most lists, including mine, if someone tries to subscribe an email address other than their own, the list software will intercept the request and alert the administrator of the list, who can approve or reject the request.)

These pranksters have been able to hide their identity, and so far no one knows who they are. O'Donnell says the culprits appear to be using accounts at either or to do their work.

One of the recipients of this weekend's prank was Pam McGraw, chief public relations spokesperson for America Online. Others targeted have included O'Donnell, AOL chairman Steve Case, Bill Gates and Internet World editor Andrew Cantor. O'Donnell says about half the targets have been AOL personnel.

"We're not sure what their motivation is," says O'Donnell, but they seem to target high-profile people in the online world. They also are targeting only Majordomo lists, it appears. O'Donnell says lists that run on Listserv software seem to be immune, partly because Listserv has some network security measures in place to prevent mailing list abuse. (That's a good thing, because there are thousands more lists running on Listserv than there are using Majordomo.)

Those of you who run mailing lists will want to watch for this type of activity. You can contact Brent Chapman, author of Majordomo, at GreatCircle Associates, Brent@GreatCircle.COM, for information about software patches or other techniques for detecting fake subscription requests. Unfortunately, Chapman was unavailable to comment on this problem before the deadline for this column.

Augusta Chronicle Teams Up With Sports Illustrated

The Augusta Chronicle has joined in a partnership with Sports Illustrated magazine to produce a Web site for the 1996 Masters golf championship in Augusta, Georgia, USA. The site currently consists of more than 200 pages and includes text, photos, audio and video clips. Features include historical Masters golf coverage and photos, coverage of PGA events leading up to the event, a course tour with hole-by-hole overview, golf shareware and a "pro-shop."

During the tournament run (the week of April 7-14), the site will include up-to-the-minute scores and highlights of the tournament, including stories and photos from both Sports Illustrated and the Augusta Chronicle, and RealAudio sound and video clips from each day's play. The site can be found at and will soon be mirrored at

This is yet another example of media alliances that have become so prevalent in the online world.

Interactive Newspapers conference update

The most important trade show of the year for newspaper new media people is coming up soon, so let me take this opportunity to remind you to sign up now. The Interactive Newspapers conference takes place February 21-24 at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco. This conference and exhibition is being produced by The Kelsey Group and Editor & Publisher and covers all aspects of interactive services in newspapers. For details, check out the conference Web site. I hope to meet many readers of this column and participants in the online-news and online-newspapers lists at the conference.

Best Online Newspaper Service Competition update

Judging is currently under way for the Editor & Publisher/The Kelsey Group Best Online Newspaper Service Competition. Our team of 15 judges is considering entries in 16 categories. Results will be announced at the Interactive Newspapers conference in a presentation Saturday morning, February 24. Winners will receive, in addition to the recognition of their peers, plaques honoring their achievement as well as prizes donated by Adobe Systems, Apple Computer and Netscape Communications.

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