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MSN adds more tools to its antispam arsenal

May 08, 20032 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalwareMicrosoft

Microsoft has added new spam-fighting tools to its MSN Hotmail e-mail service, in a move that it says underscores its multitiered approach to eliminating spam.

The new tools, announced Thursday, come as e-mail service providers such as MSN and rivals Yahoo and AOL race to diminish users’ spam fury, which has heightened in the face of a seemingly endless tide of unsolicited commercial e-mail messages.

Demonstrating the extent of the problem, Microsoft said that it blocks roughly 2.4 billion spam messages a day, or nearly 80% of e-mail messages that reach MSN servers, via layers of filtering and with the help of several spam-fighting tools.

A new tool that was introduced as part of an upgrade to the Hotmail service this week is a technology that prevents images in e-mail from loading unless the e-mail sender is listed in the receiver’s contact list. Aside from clogging up users’ networks, Microsoft said that many of the images in spam messages contain “Web beacons” which send a message back to the sender when the message is opened, allowing spammers to distinguish active e-mail accounts.

Users can still choose to scan the text and manually open the images if they wish.

Another recent antispam addition to the service is what Microsoft calls a Human Interactive Proof technology, which requires customers to interpret and manually retype a random sequence of letters and numbers in an attempt to keep spammers from setting up computer generated accounts using bots, scripts and other automated methods.

Microsoft said that since the technology was introduced last December, it has seen a 20% decrease in online attempts to set up new e-mail accounts.

Microsoft made spam elimination a focus of its new MSN 8 service, which launched late last year. At the same time, AOL put spam at the top of its hit list while introducing AOL 8.

Microsoft and AOL aren’t the only ones concentrating on canning spam, as other industry players have also moved to take spammers to court and lobby for tough penalties against sending spam.

In fact, EarthLink Wednesday won a $16 million suit against a spammer.

Additionally, major e-mail providers have recently banded together to discuss initiatives that would further reduce the flow of spam.