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More on Windows Messenger spam

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on January 31, 2003
(Issue 2105, Uncle Sam's Share)

A few months back, we wrote about the Windows Messenger notification system being used by spammers.

A few of you were glad to hear of the ability to turn it off, but wondered how — seeing as I neglected to cover that little detail in the column.

Those e-mails were filed in my "To-Do" list with great sincerity – and then promptly forgotten. Until, that is, I started getting Windows Messenger spam on my PC.

That motivated me to track down the info – let's just call it enlightened self-interest.

What it is

Windows Messenger is not the same as Microsoft's Instant Messenger (popularly known as IM), although both are called Windows Messenger. Instead, it is a utility designed to allow system administrators to send out mass alerts or warnings to everyone on a network at the same time.

This is obviously a useful tool in the work environment if you're IT folks have to take a central server down on short notice – you can send out a warning to everyone telling them to save their work and standby. The warnings pop up on a user's monitor in the form of a Windows alert window.

However, in inimitable Microsoft style, the Windows Messenger is pretty much open to anyone with your IP address.

Actually, Windows Messenger spammers can best be compared to direct marketing mailers in the physical world. Just like the companies that send our the direct mail ads to your home don't actually care who is there – they're addressed to "Resident" for a reason – Windows Messenger spammers send their garbage out banks of IP addresses, not individuals.

For that reason, and the fact that Windows Messenger warnings are text-only and thus suck up less of your bandwidth, Windows Messenger spam can be seen as somewhat less annoying than e-mail spam. And for businesses, it is generally less of a hassle because few desktop computers will have real IP addresses – only the servers that interact with the outside Internet need true IP addresses, with the rest having local-only IPs that can't be seen from the outside.

Still, for home users it's a pain. Many of the same crowd using e-mail spam to peddle their wares are now using Windows Messenger – do you really want your daughter working on her sixth-grade report to suddenly get a Windows alert box promising "Hot XXX action"?

Turning it off

Turning Windows Messenger off is fairly simple. If you're using XP, click your Start button then Control Panel. In there, you'll choose Administrative Tools. Users of the Home version of XP will then open the Component Services menu, then Local Services. Open up Messenger and click Stop. Be sure to change the Startup setting to Disabled, or you'll have to go through this the next time you re-boot.

If you have the Pro version of XP (or Windows 2000 or NT), then at the Administrative Tools menu you'll click Services, then Messenger, and Stop. Again, make sure to change the Startup setting to Disabled.

Windows 95, 98 and ME home users will generally not have Messenger installed; it is not apparently a part of the standard Windows installation process, and would normally have to be added by IT managers using those version of Windows on their networks. If you have Windows 95, 98 or ME and are getting Messenger spam, you can visit the Stop Messenger Spam web site at for instructions on protecting your computer.