The porn's in the post

Andrew North on the outrage caused by a tasteless `spam'

Thousands of subscribers to America Online and several other online services received an unwelcome surprise when they checked their e-mail last week. They found they had been sent junk e-mail offering a wide range of child pornography.

Investigations into the source of the "spam" are still continuing, but there are signs that it is actually a tasteless hoax. The message purported to be from a named individual with a New York state address. But as many recipients have already pointed out, no one would be so stupid as to put their real name on such a posting.

The author claimed to be "a fan of child pornography" and was offering videotapes, posters, games and even tape recordings of young boys moaning requested names. Recipients were also told they could have their own face "morphed" into a video to make it appear that they were participating. Prices and payment details were attached. The message informed people they had been sent the offer "because your e-mail address was on a list that fit (sic) this category".

Variously titled, "Child pornography", "Child Fun" or Child XXX", AOL was first alerted to the posting last Monday, when its helpdesk was deluged with complaints. Users of other online and Internet services, including CompuServe, Prodigy, AT&T WorldNet and Netcom also reported receiving the message. More than 200 people had complained about the message to CompuServe UK's helpdesk within 24 hours of the posting.

The posting originated from two AOL addresses (TipToe0001@aol.com and R9ch@aol.com), but people who tried to reply found their messages bounced back immediately. Experts suspect the addresses were actually "screen names", which were simply deleted once the spam had been sent. In common with many other Internet companies, AOL's software allows subscribers to create several screen names for each account.

In theory, it should be possible for AOL to trace the owner of the accounts or accounts. But this will not necessarily lead to the author of the message because the account could have been used illegally. The company said: "The source of the e-mail is still unknown." The FBI is now investigating the case and British police have also been contacted.

Opinion in the newsgroups was tending towards the view that the child porn spam is either a prank or an attempt to smear the person named in the e-mail. One theory is that people who had contributed to newsgroup discussions on combating child pornography on the Net had been deliberately targeted with the posting. Alternatively, people's e-mail addresses may simply have been grabbed as they passed through particular Web sites.

Whatever the case, it is hard to believe this mass posting was a real attempt to sell child pornography. Moreover, by sending it to so many people, the originator was inviting trouble. As one newsgroup contributor wrote: "Short of actually walking in to a police station and confessing, I can't imagine a faster way of getting attention from local, state and federal authorities than sending e-mail to a thousand strangers announcing that you have child porn for sale"

Suggested Topics
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015