BT powerless to prevent remote hacker causing e-mail spam havoc

Spammer forwards charity e-mail despite BT's attempts to block

BT's internet service came under fire this week after it emerged that the company has failed to stop one of its customers' computer systems deluging hundreds of businesses with spam e-mails, despite two months of repeated complaints.

Business consultant Eleanor Leggett first contacted BT in February after discovering that a spammer using a BT internet address was repeatedly re-sending thousands of copies of an e-mail she had posted previously to raise funds for an Irish children's charity.

Leggett, who has been inundated with legal threats and abusive messages from businesses that have been on the receiving end of the spam, said the problem has left her unable to sleep or to work, and has seriously disrupted the work of the charity, the Cross Border Orchestra, which brings Protestant and Catholic children together to perform concerts.

"I am devastated," she said. "It has preoccupied every waking hour of my time since 5 February. Every evening and every weekend I spend trawling through my e-mail. I am getting abusive, nasty e-mails. It has got to the stage that I cannot face opening the inbox."

The charity has also been deluged with abusive phone calls from irate organisations that continue to receive the e-mail.

Although BT has contacted the Hertfordshire firm that appears to be the source of the forwarded e-mails - and has temporarily disabled its e-mail address on at least three occasions - the spam shows no sign of letting up.

Leggett said she is "disgusted" by the failure of BT to solve the problem, despite more than two months' of complaints.

Her own internet service company, Energis, which has written to BT to highlight the problem, has also raised questions about the time BT is taking to put a stop to the spam.

"We have a dedicated network integrity team to deal with these kinds of complaints," a spokesman for Energis said. "It is surprising that BT has been unable to remedy this particular problem."

BT is understood to be working on the theory that its customer's computer system has been hijacked by a malicious hacker who may have taken exception to the original fund-raising e-mail. Investigators have told Leggett that its e-mail server had not been properly secured.

"We have spoken to the customer, who assured us they would try to resolve the matter. This does not appear to have happened, though we do believe they acted in good faith and tried to resolve the problem. We have gone back to the customer to advise them the problem is recurring and we have asked them to investigate," said a BT spokesman.

"Clearly this is a problem that is originating from something that is outside of our control in that we do not have any access to this person's computer set-up. But everyone involved does appear to be acting responsibly and reasonably."

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