• United States

AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo push effort to fight spam

Apr 28, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalwareMessaging Apps

Three of the world’s leading e-mail providers have joined together to announce their intentions to reduce the amount of spam faced by e-mail users, much of which comes from e-mail addresses set up through participating companies America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The group will work to reduce the amount of junk e-mail received by their users and to identify ways to limit the amount of spam originating from their own e-mail services, they said in a statement Monday. This effort will include the identification of suspicious e-mail headers, better feedback options for consumers across the different e-mail service providers, and closer cooperation with law enforcement authorities.

The three companies hope to prevent spammers from using e-mail headers that distort their identities, and to prevent e-mail sent from open relays or open proxies, they said.

Quite a bit of spam comes from users of the three companies’ popular free e-mail services, and the companies want to reduce that amount by making it harder to register fraudulent e-mail addresses in bulk. The group also will create better feedback policies and procedures for their customers that can help identify spam-generating businesses or e-mail addresses.

Stopping short of entering the opt-in/opt-out debate, AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo said they will work with e-mail marketers to help consumers better recognize legitimate e-mail as opposed to unsolicited marketing messages. Fed up with incessant pitches from fake Nigerian widows, many consumer groups are lobbying for a national opt-in policy, under which any business that wishes to send commercial e-mail must get explicit permission from the recipient before sending the e-mail. Thus far, the more business-friendly opt-out standard has applied, where legitimate e-mail marketers must provide a valid address for the recipient to remove themselves from that hit list.

The debate between opt-in/opt-out only applies to legitimate senders of marketing messages, rather than distributors of e-mail promoting pornography, weight-loss supplements, or the aforementioned Nigerian bank-account scam offers, which have a frighteningly high success rate.

Many organizations are looking for a way to combat spam, which researcher MessageLabs said makes up 30% of all e-mail, a figure it expects to reach 50% by July. A recent spam conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology underlined the difficulty of the problem. Since everyone has a slightly different idea of what constitutes spam, universal spam filters often block legitimate — and important — e-mail messages from reaching their destination.

The Internet Engineering Task Force feels that spam blocking needs to start at the Internet service provider level, and created the Anti-Spam Research Group to identify ways to create an architecture that allows Internet users to indicate their willingness to receive unsolicited e-mail.

The U.S. government is also getting involved. The Federal Trade Commission recently sought a court order against a spammer who used deceptive subject headers to promote a pornography Web site, and two U.S. senators have re-introduced an antispam bill that never made it to the Senate floor for a full vote last year. The bill seeks to fine spammers who “willingly and knowingly” fail to include opt-out e-mail addresses.