Russian Authorities Accuse Businessman of Running Illegal Online Pharmacy and Spamming Billions

The beginning of a criminal investigation by Russian authorities in Moscow of a prominent spammer has resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of spam advertising from illegal online pharmacies, reports the New York Times.

The center of the investigation, Igor A. Gusev, has been linked to the website “SpamIt”, an organization that provides financial incentives for spammers to promote a group of illegitimate websites known as Canadian Pharmacy.

After a raid on Gusev’s apartment resulted in the confiscation of numerous hard drives full of data, the website was shut down. The shutdown of “SpamIt” has led to 50 billion fewer spam e-mails being sent each day, representing the loss of a full fifth of the internet’s spam traffic, according to the news source.

“We’ve seen a sustained drop in global volumes,” Henry Stern, senior security analyst for Cisco Systems, told the Times. Stern added that Cisco, which monitors internet usage, attributes the drop to the closing of the “SpamIt” website.

The shutdown has also resulted in a dramatic shift in the content of internet spam as a whole. According to Kaspersky Lab, a Russian antivirus company, the proportion of e-mails in the United States and Western Europe advertising prescription drugs has dropped from 65 percent of total spam to 41 percent in the past month.

The Times points out, however, that typical internet users may not notice the significant drop in the amount of spam, as many users employ filters that prevent them from seeing much of the junk e-mail that reaches their inboxes.

Gusev himself has been charged with operating a pharmacy without a license and with failing to register a business. Once Russian authorities complete their examination of the contents of the data confiscated from Gusev’s apartment, they may also charge him with specific computer-related crimes. Gusev is presumed to have fled Russia.

The investigation comes as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev begins an initiative to crack down on illegitimate activities in the Russian internet industry, which has long been an unregulated safe haven for spammers.

The shutdown of “SpamIt”, which largely targets internet users in Europe and the United States, appears to be an effort to help the Russian internet industry shed its unsavory reputation.