Microsoft is promoting its anti-spam efforts

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The release dates have not been nailed down, but Microsoft Corp. says it will soon begin implementing new technology to help keep spam from ending up in your inbox.

Two new features would identify and filter outbound spam on clients and enterprises and would make computers sending e-mail pay a small computational 'price,' making spam less affordable as a mass marketing tool.

Filtering in-bound e-mail has become about 90 percent effective, said Ryan Hamlin, general manager of Microsoft's Anti-Spam Technology and Strategy group. Unfortunately, that has helped drive up the volume of spam and a huge problem remains.

'Filtering is not going to be the end-game solution,' said Hamlin, who is on a press tour marking the one-year anniversary of the anti-spam group. 'For spam to go away you have to change the economics.'

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates began touting the new tools last fall, describing a scheme in which a server receiving e-mail would respond to the sender, asking it to perform a small task before accepting the e-mail. For a normal user, this computational overhead would be too small to be a bother. For a large-scale spammer it would be impractical.

'We're actually putting it in our products,' Hamlin said Tuesday. 'It's no longer a research project, it's something we're going to ship.' Just when it would ship has not been decided yet.

The SmartScreen filter would operate at the enterprise level, on e-mail servers and gateways, or at the client level on desktops. At the enterprise level it would monitor 500,000 characteristics of outbound messages to create a spam confidence profile. On clients it would monitor 150,000 characteristics. If it appears the machines are being used to send spam, owners can be notified or network connections blocked.

'We don't know when it will be out,' Hamlin said, but he said it should be available soon.

In other areas, Microsoft formed an anti-spam working group last year with AOL Time Warner Inc., Yahoo Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., and EarthLink Inc. of Atlanta. The most visible result so far has been six lawsuits filed against alleged spammers earlier this year under the federal Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act.

'We haven't been very public with what we've come up with,' Hamlin said. 'But we're sharing a lot of information. A year ago that wouldn't have been the case.'

He said the group expects soon to announce a set of best practices to help Internet service providers block spam that have been developed through the companies' cooperation.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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