Swedish programmer in Greek spam probe protests innocence

Beware of Geeks bearing computers


A well-known Swedish programmer is fighting to clear his name after he was arrested in Greece last week on charges of spamming people with penis pill adverts and the like.

Rick Downes runs software companies Rixstep.com and Radsoft.net and is strongly against spamming. Downes runs these firms part time from his home in Crete after taking early retirement.

But these credentials cut little ice with Greek tourist police who arrested Downes on 26 October and confiscated his main computer. Local police were acting on complaints made by a travel agent business acquaintance and two other people who received nearly identical spam messages (advertising drugs such as Viagra and Valium) soon after meeting the software developer and his wife, Sydney Phillips.

Police told local paper Xaniotika Nea (Chania News) that Downes, along with another unnamed Swedish citizen, were illegally selling pharmaceutical drugs on the net, promoted through an enthusiastic spamming campaign. But, according to Phillips, there is no connection between him and suspect emails shown to him by the police. These sample emails contained no header information but ostensibly came from the domain 'acnielsen.com', the online ratings firm.

Downes strongly denies the accusations and maintains there is nothing to link him with the spam messages. He said his knowledge of computers was taken as suspicious by investigators who knew nothing about technology.

"We tried to explain to the police that what most likely happened is that the travel agent's computer is compromised and that her address book (including the addresses of her two friends who've met Rick) has been harvested for use by spammers, but they did not understand this. They were very unsophisticated in terms of computers and seemed to believe spammers met people and collected email addresses one by one," Phillips said.

Downes operates an Apple Mac machine and is an expert in low level functions so there was no way his machine was compromised to send the offending messages, according to Phillips, who remains baffled about why her husband came to be charged and is highly critical of the police handling of the case.

"We've received no help from the Swedish consulate. All they can do is recommend a translator," she said, adding that the case has affected the couple's health and affected the operation of Downes's software development businesses.

Police are still investigating the case but Phillips is hopeful this probe will be completed within a week. At that point, police will either drop the case or give Downes a court date. ®

Clarification

An earlier version of this article said Downes had been nominated to the caretaker board of EINSA, the new European taskforce for Internet security. While Downes was recommended to the board, he never formally applied, and therefore has no formal links with the organization. We are happy to clarify this point.


Other stories you might like

  • NASA installs a new and improved algorithm to better track near-Earth asteroids

    Nearly 20 year-old software used to protect humanity gets an upgrade

    NASA has upgraded its near-Earth asteroid monitoring algorithm to model hazardous space rocks more accurately after nearly two decades, it announced on Tuesday.

    The new system, dubbed Sentry-II, is more powerful than its predecessor, Sentry. Astronomers working at the space agency's Center for Near Earth Object Studies can now automatically calculate thermal influences that nudge an asteroid’s orbit, potentially sending it hurtling towards our home planet.

    The so-called Yarkovsky effect describes the subtle and gradual change of motion when asteroids are heated by the Sun’s light. When asteroids spin, one side of its surface exposed to the star gets heated. As it continues to rotate, the hot region enters shade and cools down. Infrared energy is radiated outwards; the photons carry momentum and impart a tiny thrust on the asteroid. Over long periods of time, these small kicks can change their paths and knock them out of their original orbit.

    Continue reading
  • Facebook slapped with an eyepopping $150B lawsuit for spreading hate speech against Rohingya refugees

    Lawsuit claims social media giant's algos helped Myanmar military crackdown on the Rohingya

    Meta was sued on Tuesday for a whopping $150 billion in a class-action lawsuit for allegedly amplifying hate speech and aiding the Myanmar military in the genocide of the Rohingya people.

    The case, led by an anonymous Rohingya refugee living in the US, accuses the entity formerly known as Facebook of inciting hatred and inflicting real harm on the predominantly Muslim group for years. Not only did the social media platform ignore hate speech posts, it's alleged that the service's algorithms actively promoted anti-Rohingya propaganda as hundreds of thousands of people fled from Myanmar to escape persecution.

    Facebook has already acknowledged its role in the campaign, which saw an estimated 25,000 people perish and 700,000 forced from the country. The lawsuit also comes after ex-employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents demonstrating how its algorithms prioritized engagement over safety.

    Continue reading
  • Power management IC shortage holding cars, laptops, hostage

    Couple of cents-worth of kit causing big problems for the year to come

    The shortage of power management chips is worsening and holding back companies from building cars, PCs and items with batteries or an on-off switch, Trendforce said in a study this week.

    Power management ICs cost just a few cents, and are among cheap chips that include display driver and USB-C components that are in short supply. These chips are as important to PCs and other electronics as CPUs or memory.

    The demand for PMICs has gone through the roof with the emergence of electric cars and growing demand for PCs and consumer electronics during the past 20 plus months. Trendforce expects the prices will go up by 10 per cent to a six-year high of $0.23.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021