Bandwidth Theft

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Not familiar with what a 419 fake is? Learn more about Advance Fee Fraud!

What's bandwidth and what's a quota? "Bandwidth quota" is a technical way of saying how many bits of information a site is allowed to transfer in a given period of time. A typical hosting plan has a quota of a few gigabytes per month. Some particularly inexpensive (or free) hosting plans -- the ones that scammers like best since they're cheap! -- have quotas of only a few hundred megabytes, or have daily quotas. When a web site has transferred that much information already, it can't be accessed again until the next period of time starts.

So how is bandwidth used up? Let's say that a typical graphic is about 15 kb.

  • If one person views that 15 kb graphic, he's used up 15 kb of bandwidth.
  • If that person comes back to see the graphic three more times, he's used up 60 kb of bandwidth total.
  • If he forwards the link to ten friends and asks them to take a look, they use up 150 kb of bandwidth (bringing our total to 210 kb).
  • If they each like the graphic and come back three more times, that's another 450 kb of bandwidth used -- 660 kb gone!

You get the idea. The more people that visit a web site, the more bandwidth is used up. And when we encourage hundreds of people to take a look at a fake and fraudulent bank, its bandwidth gets used a lot more quickly!

When the bandwidth quota is reached, the web site displays a "509 error":

Bandwidth Limit Exceeded. The server is temporarily unable to
service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her
bandwidth limit. Please try again later.

And this means that the scammer's can't use their fake site to convince victims to send them money. One of the central props of their scam is offline!

Why is bandwidth theft a scammers nightmare? Artists were aware of bandwidth theft since we put up our first art sites: It's a plague of the internet! If somebody is using your images without permission he's violating your copyright. But if this person links directly to your image (a process called hot-linking), he is also stealing your bandwidth. The bill for this additional data transfer is sent to you!

So why not turn this plague against scammers? Many of them use web sites to defraud their victims: there are thousands of faked banks, security companies, lotteries, barristers, even chemical companies. And frankly, they're pretty ugly. If you've seen one fake bank site with flipping bills and backwards-spinning globes, you've seen them all...

How does aa419 use bandwidth? We have put together some tools -- The Lad Vampire and The Mugu Marauder -- which automatically reload fake bank graphics over and over and over. Now you can waste the scammers' bandwidth without wearing out your mouse buttons!

But above all, we see this as a tool of last resort. It's easier for everybody concerned if we politely inform hosters of what's on their servers and why it's illegal. And 95% of the time, the hosters appreciate the information and take the site offline -- there's lots of reasons to NOT host fraud sites! But for the stubborn few who ignore abuse complaints, ignore evidence of financial regulators, ignore their own Terms of Service... potential victims need to be protected from these frauds somehow.

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