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Filtering under siege as spam tide rises

  • 08 January, 2007 08:45

<p>When Australians return from the holidays, around 95 per cent of email directed at their personal and business in-boxes will be spam, according to data security expert Peter Stewart.</p>
<p>And global anti-spam solution vendors confirm that spam volumes rose between 100 per cent and 120 per cent during 2006 with worse to come this year.</p>
<p>They attribute to rise to the spammers extensive use of botnets hijacked computers the criminals use to generate huge volumes of spam - and to the increasingly sophisticated methods criminals are using to elude the filtering technology that most anti-spam solutions employ to control spam.</p>
<p>The global scourge of spam continues to worsen, and the industry suggests this discouraging trend will continue in 2007, said Stewart, Chairman of TotalBlock Pty Ltd. Two years ago Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced confidently that spam would be under control by 2006, yet today the problem has grown to really serious levels that are affecting global business.</p>
<p>However, the new techniques being used by spammers to fool filters, including the use of images instead of text, fail when confronted by the challenge-response method of dealing with spam. Yet this blocking technique, which is capable of reducing spam to a fraction of a percent of all email entering the in-box, is still being ignored by major vendors, large corporations and governments alike.</p>
<p>Stewart said his firms statistics show that Australian spam rose from 85 per cent of all incoming email a year ago, to 95 per cent by the end of November. Unlike spam-filtering solutions that can allow up to 5 per cent of unwanted emails through to the in-box, TotalBlock stops all unwanted emails.</p>
<p>It works by building a list of acceptable incoming email senders, using a customers address book as well as replying automatically to any emailers who are not on the allowed list. The reply contains a simple action that, when followed, adds the sender to the allowed list. This excludes all mail from spammers who do not respond to the message, including unwanted emails generated by botnets. In day-to-day operation, TotalBlock has to cope with all the complexity of the Internet and the related harvesting attacks by spammers. However, from the users' perspective, TotalBlock is largely self-managing, relieving both the user and the Network Manager from the tedious tasks associated with filtering techniques used to stop spam.</p>
<p>Challenge-response is also effective against image spam, which Secure Computing announced recently causes problems for filters that use key text words, mathematical analysis or optical recognition against spam.</p>
<p>Security firm McAfee says spammers have begun to direct messages from the domain names of small islands to disguise themselves from filters that traditionally catch more well-known domains. According to Stewart, this ploy too would be ineffective against challenge-response technology.</p>
<p>As spammers continue to hone their weapons, the industry reports that image spam and Microsoft Office document spam now comprise up to 30 per cent of all junk messages, compared to 2 per cent in 2005. Hackers are also using techniques such as re-arranging as many as 25 tiny images into a message in an HTML email, or using animated GIF attachments to elude optical character recognition technology.</p>
<p>According to Daniel Druker, executive vice president of marketing at data security vendor Postini, spammers are increasingly aggressive and sophisticated in their techniques, and protection from spam has become a front-burner issue. He says spam has evolved from a tool for nuisance hackers and annoying marketers to one for criminal enterprises.</p>
<p>TotalBlocks Peter Stewart counters that a long-overdue move by data security firms to challenge-response technology would provide immediate relief for email users worldwide.</p>
<p>About TotalBlock</p>
<p>TotalBlock - - is an Australian-developed anti-spam solution that also guards against network overloads caused by storming, harvesting and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. It works by blocking ALL machine-generated unwanted email, using a challenge-response technique rather than commonly used filtering. TotalBlock builds a list of acceptable incoming email senders, using a customers address book as well as replying automatically to any emailers who are not on the allowed list. The reply contains a simple action that, when followed, adds the sender to the allowed list. The action can be as simple as replying to the challenge. Since this authorisation process requires human intervention, it bypasses drone machines that spew out huge volumes of spam.</p>
<p># # #</p>
<p>For more information</p>
<p>Peter Stewart or Ben Corby
TotalBlock Pty Ltd
Tel. 61-2-9437 9800</p>

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