Experts cook up antispam recipes

The battle against spam has to be fought on many fronts, experts say.

'There isn't a single magical solution, sad as that may be,' J. Howard Beales III, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said at a recent antispam conference in Washington. 'There are many directions we could take.'

FTC has been warning enterprises that their mail and proxy servers could be helping spammers. 'Expect FTC action on the open-relay issue in the very near future,' Beales said.

Congress has two antispam bills under consideration; one of them would create a 'do not spam' list similar to FTC's 'do not call' telemarketing registry, which opens in July.

Virginia last month enacted an aggressive antispam law to seize profits from spamming and make it a felony penalized by up to five years in jail.

But some at the FTC conference warned against relying on legislation, pointing out that strict enforcement would prove elusive.

'The practical reality is, prosecutors may not have the time or resources to take these cases,' said Paula Selis, senior counsel in the Washington state attorney general's office.

Others urged regulators to let the free market deal with spam.

'It's a mistake to think any legislation will fix everything,' said John R. Patrick, chairman of the Global Internet Project of Arlington, Va. He pointed to corporate and venture capital investments in high-tech spam fixes. 'Technology does work,' he said. 'We just need to give it a little more time.'

New approaches

Current antispam technologies include storage and message-body filters, blacklists, challenge-response e-mail and bulk-counting software. The list is growing, as software vendors release more products targeted to enterprises as large as the federal government.

Anti-Spam 4.5 from Brightmail Inc. of San Francisco works across enterprises with Microsoft Windows, Linux and Sun Solaris platforms running several messaging environments, including Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes.

The Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory began testing Brightmail in February, company officials said.

Representatives of the Computing and Instrumentation Solutions Division of Argonne National Laboratory said they use flagging software called SpamAssassin from Deersoft Inc., which was acquired earlier this year by Network Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

'We are entering the second major phase of spam protection and tagging,' Argonne officials said in a March announcement of new filter and blacklist support. 'We are taking a phasing-in approach to new spam-prevention technologies.'

Chris Kraft, director of product management at ActiveState Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia, said the company is 'seeing a growing demand by some agencies.'

ActiveState recently released PureMessage 4.0 spam-filtering and e-mail management software, which has a Web-based rules module that can monitor confidential messages, remove attachments and block offensive material.

Giving the mission even more muscle, America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. jointly announced their intent to fight spammers. Their strategies include using the Domain Name System to pinpoint spam sources, stopping spam's arrival by open relays or open-router systems, restricting techniques that conceal the sender's identity, and defining best practices for antispam account policies. Microsoft has said the campaign is costing millions of dollars.

'There is no one particular solution, whether it's a technological solution or legislative solution,' said David Berlind, executive editor of ZDNet Tech Update and founder of JamSpam, a group working toward interoperable antispam protocols.

'Nothing will work well unless they're harmonized to work together.'

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