Carriers: Make stopping spam a priority

I recently read a New York Times story on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that traced the history of the attempts to rebuild Ground Zero and all the varied interest groups lobbying to get their way. In recounting all the sordid details and political brinksmanship, the story came to a conclusion: There was no one just making it happen, no leadership, despite all the leaders in the room.

That's how I feel about the health of our telecom network. All the well-lobbied interests are getting their way - TV is coming to a telco near you, if you fit the demographics. If you are in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont, forget about it - Verizon wants to sell you off. If you live in rural areas, you may not even get broadband.

I live in Maine, so I'm going to get hit there by Verizon's moves. I also live in rural Connecticut, where I trade off rustic tranquillity for the fact that my cell phone hardly works and I cannot get DSL.

But I have a cable modem, and each day it tries to send me all sorts of things I don't want in the form of spam. Like everyone else, my company has installed all kinds of gear to deal with spam. The latest is a tremendous piece of hardware from Barracuda Networks that stops spam cold from coming into the corporate e-mail servers. We feel protected with our TippingPoint/NetScreen/Barracuda Networks front line - pretty much the cream of crop, according to our research.

Then one of our test servers for applications got hacked. Turns out a software update in the Web server was never set properly and allowed a hole to open. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from Mu Security, which briefed me on its new offering that will hammer at your systems to see if they fall over. Our systems are mission critical, so we'll probably be talking to Mu some more to see how many holes we have that we don't know about.

As the firms I run start to spread their applications through wireless connections and via more messaging protocols, we increasingly open our systems and consequently need to secure them more. So we spend more money on security. It's no surprise that security is a multibillion-dollar business.

But I have to ask: Why? If I can buy a Barracuda Networks box and protect my network from spam and viruses, why can't the carriers put one at each of their international peering sites to cut down on the inbound spam? I don't care how many peering points there are, it's a finite number - why can't they be locked down? Why can't we have more in-network protections to peel things such as spam off the networks? Why should I have to stop this at my premises, when at the other end of the line is a service provider?

We hear so much about how we need to be competitive in the world, grow the national economy and increase productivity, and the single biggest and fastest improvement to American productivity is sitting right in front of us in the form of a clean, spam-free telecom network, if only we'd make it a priority.

Where are the leaders who will pull all-nighters and work weekends to get this done? Who is pushing to get beyond the Microsoft vs. rest-of-the-world roadblocks to get this junk off our networks? Bill Gates can work to solve world hunger and stop AIDS, but he can't get spam off our networks? Where is the commitment to do something about network security instead of adding yet another way to buy Bugs Bunny videos to my communications options?

I know people are meeting constantly about this. I know there are standards and rights issues. I know there are complex technical designs to be hammered out. Still, the Manhattan Project yielded a bomb that ended a war. You think this is not a war on our network? Think about the productivity and money lost to this battle. It's time we got the job done.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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