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12/29/2008
03:07 PM
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CastleCops Shuts Down

After years of fighting the good fight against spammers and phishers, the all-volunteer online community has pulled the plug

In a blow to anti-phishing efforts, the famed CastleCops organization dedicated to fighting spam and phishing quietly shuttered its site last week.

The all-volunteer organization investigated phishing and malware scams, and was credited with successfully derailing many of these attacks and phishing sites. CastleCops itself was also a constant target of distributed denial-of-service attacks and other scams.

CastleCops announced its demise just before Christmas last week with a short post on its Website: "It has been our pleasure to investigate online crime and volunteer with our virtual family to assist with your computer needs and make the Internet a safer place. Unfortunately, all things come to an end," the site says. "Keep up the good fight folks, for the spirit of this community lies within each of us. We are empowered to improve the safety and security of the Internet in our own way."

The shutdown came nearly six months after the departure of CastleCops' founder, Paul Laudanski, who left for a job at Microsoft this summer. Paul, who still owned CastleCops after leaving its day-to-day operations, and his wife Robin created CastleCops over six years ago.

"I believe CastleCops' impact was a great and effective one against online fraud, malware, and spam," Laudanski says. "CastleCops far surpassed anything I imagined for it, and to that end I, and in fact the community as a whole, are blessed."

CastleCops' shutdown reverberated around the industry this week. "It is really sad that CastleCops shut down. This is definitely a setback in the fight against phishing," says Randy Abrams, director of technical education at Eset. CastleCops successfully shut down numerous phishing sites over the past six years, Abrams adds.

"Paul and Robin devoted an incredible amount of volunteer effort to CastleCops. It was a monumental task," Abrams says.

Other similar online crime-fighting organizations were sad to see CastleCops go dark. "I am sorry to see such a good resource like CastleCops shut down, but I think that's endemic with the kind of service they were trying to provide. They were essentially competing against large companies like RSA who have big paying customers to do much of the same work," says David Ulevitch, founder of OpenDNS and PhishTank. "It's hard to keep a volunteer effort that asks so much of their volunteers going over the long course."

Garth Bruen, creator of KnujOn, concurred that the volunteer model has its challenges. "This is a core indicator of the problem. CastleCops, HostExploit, and KnujOn are the only types of projects that have had any real success in this area and we have no funding. Millions and possibly billions of dollars have been poured down the drain on solutions that have failed," Bruen says. "Without CastleCops, the banks would still be wandering around trying to figure out phishing."

CastleCops, meanwhile, has promised to refund any contributions made via PayPal that were designated for its servers by March 17, 2009. Contributions via check will be donated to the Internet Systems Consortium, according to CastleCops, unless the donor requests otherwise.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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