Chapter 5. 

Tracking Empire Towers

There’s no Guinness world record yet for the greatest number of spams received in a two-day period. But Karen Hoffmann would surely be a contender. A self-proclaimed soccer mom from the suburbs of Toledo, Ohio, Hoffmann was inundated with over 100,000 junk emails over the course of forty-eight hours in January 2001.

The messages advertised a multilevel marketing program run by an outfit called the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP). At the height of the spam attack, ads bearing the subject line “Be Your Own Boss” flowed into her email server at the rate of over thirty per minute. Hoffmann tried to keep her head above water by quickly downloading and deleting the messages. But she unavoidably fell behind, and before long the volume of spam overwhelmed her account’s storage capacity. Hoffmann’s ISP disconnected its mail server to weather the flood.

Prior to the incident, the 41-year-old Hoffmann had never paid much attention to junk email. She had been operating Toledo CyberCafe, her web-page design business, from her home since 1996. A computer science major in college, Hoffmann had started the small company after the collapsing savings-and-loan industry took with it her career as a systems analyst for banks. She had openly published her email address on the web sites she designed for clients, so Hoffmann was accustomed to deleting a couple dozen spams each day. But the onslaught that winter suddenly turned her into a vehement anti-spammer. She ...

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