Security professionals poke holes in Viagra Spammer murder

Rumours circulating about a murdered Russian penis enlargement and Viagra spammer are based on a hoax email, according to security experts.

If rumours are correct, there should be a dramatic decrease in Viagra and Penis Enlargement spam from today, with the so-called 'murder' of a Russian spammer called "Alexey Tolstokozhev."

Blogger Alex Loonov wrote yesterday about 'Tolstokozhev's' murder after apparently seeing it on Russian television.

He wrote that a Russian spammer named Alexey Tolstokozhev (whose name in Russian apparently means 'Thick Skin') was found murdered in his luxury house near Moscow.

"He had been shot several times with one bullet stuck in his head. According to authorities, this last head shot is a clear mark of Russian hit men. Who hated Tolstokozhev so much as to hire a hit man to assassinate him? Well, I guess you have about one billion e-mail users to suspect. Tolstokozhev was a famous spammer who sent millions of e-mail promoting viagra, cialis, penis enlargement pills and other medications."

Loonov wrote that Tolstokozhev is estimated to be responsible for up to 30 per cent of all viagra and penis enlargement related spam and that authorities say Tolstokozhev has likely made more than US$2 million in 2007 alone. He does not give any source for these figures.

Possibly to give his story more validity he then writes that, "This is a second murder of a spammer in Russia. Another Russian spammer, Vardan Kushnir, was assassinated in 2005...Violent murders (are) a clear sign that spam (has) become a serious criminal activity."

Although Vardan Kushnir's assassination did really occur, authorities did not find any link between his spamming activities and his death. Loonov's "blog" is currently only a static page with the following notice at the bottom of it:

"Because of a huge amount of traffic this post received, I had to temporarily shutdown the blog leaving only the cache version of this post. Feel free to link to this static page. I won't remove it. Commenting is also closed, sorry!"

The 'news' spread though, via the power of the internet, leading McAfee security blogger Igor Muttik to comment on it.

"It seems that today someone invented a new way of fighting spam. The idea is simple-scare spammers to death by circulating a hoax that one of their ilk has just been murdered! It would not take long for people to conclude that such a poor fate might be related to the professional activities of the deceased," Muttik writes.

"As much as we at McAfee Avert Labs would like to reduce the level of spam, we just have to conclude that spammers can still sleep well at night."

If Alexey Tolstokozhev really is a spammer, there is little evidence. He is not listed in The Register of Known Spam Operations (ROKSO) database. A Google and a Yahoo search for Tolstokozhev and the Russian transcription "Толстокожев" also failed to yield any relevant results.

PC Tools' Senior Malware Analyst, Sergei Shevchenko agrees that the blog is most likely a hoax, given that by 1:10 PM Sydney time on Friday (7:10 AM Moscow time), there was not a single mention on Alexey Tolstokozhev's murder from any known Russian news agency.

"This could have been released as hoax by the competitors of Alexey Tolstokozhev in order to reveal his personality, his professional activity, his income or the fact that he owns a luxury house, in order to alert criminals or authorities," said Shevchenko.

"In the case of the criminals, Alexey would be expected to part his income with them. In case of authorities, Alexey would have to prove that all the taxes were paid correctly."

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Dahna McConnachie

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