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Now we know what gang war will look like in cyberspace. It doesn’t much resemble the Jets and the Sharks. It looks more like you and me.

A new study found that 90 percent of all e-mail sent is spam–and most of that is sent out by criminal gang members and other unsavory characters who are hacking into personal computers and using them as “e-mail zombies.” From the Reuters story:

About 200 illegal gangs are behind 80 percent of unwanted e-mails, according to Spamhaus, a body that tracks the problem. Experts blame the rise in spam on computer programs that hijack millions of home computers to send e-mails.

These “zombie networks”, also called “botnets”, can link 100,000 home computers without their owners’ knowledge. They are leased to gangs who use their huge “free” computing power to send millions of e-mails with relative anonymity.

How bad is this problem? Well, anyone who has ever opened his or her e-mail account after a long holiday weekend can attest that it’s bad. However, a story in the Times found that as many as 150,000 English citizens have unknowingly had their computer used to send out spam.

And all of that can be traced back to one man, according to the Times story:

Amichai Inbar, identified as the world’s fifth most significant spammer, has been using a London-based internet company to control the networks of hijacked computers, The Times has discovered. He is responsible for billions of e-mails advertising pornography, drugs such as Viagra and offers of “cheap” shares that turn out to be virtually worthless.

The recent revelations have caused an uproar at the European Union headquarters, in Brussels. Leaders are calling for new spam laws to be strictly enforced across all territories, including the United States, which is purportedly the worst at controlling spammers, according to this Associated Press story.

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