updated 9/13/2006 3:45:09 PM ET 2006-09-13T19:45:09

An Australian man is under investigation for sending more than 2 billion junk e-mails in one year to promote Viagra, an official said Wednesday.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority began investigating the man, whose identity was not immediately released, after receiving a tip from Dutch authorities last year.

Its chairwoman, Lyn Maddock, said officials had searched the man's home and were examining the evidence. She said more than 2 billion e-mails were sent to Internet users around the world. The authority declined to give further details while the investigation was under way.

Under Australia's 2003 anti-spam law, Australian residents who send unsolicited commercial e-mails, even from outside the country, are subject to penalties ranging from about $164,000 per day for first-time corporate offenders to about $823,000 per day for repeat offenders.

Danyel Molenaar, a project manager for the Dutch Independent Regulator of Post and Telecommunications, said the man had rented 35 servers — for more than $10,000 each per month — from a small Internet service provider in the Netherlands.

"These 35 servers were used just for sending spam day-in, day-out for at least a year, probably longer," Molenaar said. "This operation probably sent out billions and billions of e-mails."

The method does not appear sophisticated.

Peter Coroneos, chief executive for Australia's Internet Industry Association, said high-volume spammers don't usually use servers owned by commercial Internet service providers to generate their e-mails because they are generally too easy to trace.

Instead, sophisticated spammers take command of individual computers infected with viruses and use them as remote servers for sending spam. The method is virtually impossible to prosecute because spammers can take over an unsuspecting user's computer, send millions of e-mails in a few hours and leave without a trace.

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