Social-networking site MySpace has filed a lawsuit against an alleged major spammer who has been targeted by Microsoft and others in the past.

According to MySpace, Colorado resident Scott Richter sent out millions of "bulletins" to MySpace members, violating state and federal antispam laws, including the Can-Spam Act. Richter gained access to user accounts through several phishing schemes, MySpace claims, and churned out messages that advertised products such as shirts and ringtones.

The amount of monetary damages that MySpace is seeking has not yet been disclosed, but Richter apparently is already in the red after losing a high-profile legal row with Microsoft. In that 2003 wrangle, the alleged spammer was ordered to pay $7 million after he refused to settle the dispute for a significantly lower amount.

A former president of an online marketing site, OptInRealBig.com, Richter has been named one of the world's worst spammers by consumer advocacy site Spamhaus. He has been tied to several illegal spam campaigns that use common spammer techniques, including fake server names, to spread their messages.

Issue Laden

Phishing, viruses, and other password-compromising problems have become a recurring problem for MySpace, particularly within the past few months.

In December, for example, MySpace had to shut down hundreds of user profiles to stop an infection spreading through a QuickTime worm that was taking advantage of a vulnerability in the site's architecture. The vulnerability allowed the worm creators to replace legitimate links on MySpace profile pages with links to a phishing site that requested visitors' user names and passwords.

Hemanshu Nigam, chief security Relevant Products/Services officer at MySpace, said in a statement released on Monday that MySpace is committed to protecting its community from phishing and spam. "If it takes filing a federal suit to stop someone who violates the law and damages our members' experience, then that's what we'll do," he said.

Peter Firstbrook, an analyst at Gartner Relevant Products/Services, noted that as MySpace battles phishers, spammers, and others bent on manipulating the site's large number of users, it is likely that it will have to face even more foes in the future.

Web 2.0 Threat

The much-touted features of the Web 2.0 world -- which offers, among other benefits, greater interactivity -- have changed the Internet from a static repository of information to a user-driven experience. While many users enjoy being able to load their own content, contribute to well-known sites, and put up links on personal pages, more malicious users see the open nature of these sites as an opportunity for financial gain or general mayhem.

"When people have the ability to change content, a door is opened," said Firstbrook. "The collaborative atmosphere of sites like MySpace is great for building community, but it's also very tempting for virus writers, because they can watch their code spread very quickly."

Currently, he noted, there are more virus attacks and phishing attempts launched via e-mail than through Web 2.0 sites. But he also said it is conceivable that attackers could modify their tools for sites like MySpace to spread an infection more quickly among site members.

"Any site that has a fairly open architecture and a huge number of users makes an attractive target," he said.