ISPs turn up the heat on spammers

Australian Internet service providers (ISPs) claim spam is eating up to $500,000 a year in revenue, clogging networks and annoying customers.

To fight the onslaught ISPs are partnering with antivirus vendors and the federal government is finalising a report recommending industry action. Australian enterprises are also at risk as spam is a constant drain on corporate resources with IT analyst Ferris Research predicting it will cost a cool $US10 billion globally in 2003 and take over legitimate e-mail in users' in-boxes in coming years.

The researcher's president, David Ferris, said IT has to start taking action including user education, industry initiatives and technology. Melbourne-based iPrimus Telecom puts the cost at between $300,000 and $500,000 a year in damage control. In coming months iPrimus Telecom Internet's general manager, Campbell Sallabank, told Computerworld it will partner with a major antivirus and antispam solution vendor either Symantec, Trend Micro, MacAfee, Brightmail, Sophos, Active State or Command, to protect its network and services to customers.

The Department of Communications, IT and the Arts (DCITA) is finalising a report to the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) to recommend how ISPs, government and industry associations can work together to address the problem of spam in business.

The department is consulting a range of government and industry stakeholders including the Australian Consumers Association (ACA), the Confederation Against Unsolicited Bulk Email, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), the Internet Industry Association (IIA) and the Australian Direct Marketing Association to develop antispam strategies for the ISP industry. Early findings of NOIE's Interim Review into Spam in August 2002 showed that the key problems surrounding spam were privacy breaches, illegal or offensive content, misleading or deceptive trade practices, cost-shifting to recipients and risks of network integrity.

The review said NOIE will "propose an approach which incorporates regulatory, self-regulatory, technical and consumer awareness elements". The DCITA spokesman added that the department's engagement with industry would continue after the report was published (later this year) and "ensure that the recommendations adopted by government will have the greatest impact controlling spam". Telstra is also working with NOIE to develop a draft position on spam and how the ISP industry can work together to address the problem, a company spokesman said.

In the US, America Online announced the formation last week of a special antispam task force, as well as preparations to deploy new spam-fighting tools and its advocacy for tougher laws to fight the unwanted e-mail plague.

"We are fed up with spam and we HATE it as much as you do!" AOL wrote in a message posted to its customers this month. Aberdeen Group analyst Eric Hemmendinger said AOL has recently been rocked with huge revenue losses and an executive shake-up and is looking to staunch its problems by stabilising its membership. "Making sure [members] don't get beseeched by spam is a good place to start," he said.

Now AOL is also taking spammers to task, unsurprising considering the heavyweight ISP said that its filters are blocking 780 million pieces of junk mail a day from e-mail users' in-boxes.


-- with Scarlett Pruitt

Task force hits the spam trail

As spam problems worsen for businesses and consumers, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is going on the offensive by creating a panel called the AntiSpam Research Group (ASRG) to look for new ways to beat back unwanted e-mail.

The IETF, the main standards body for the Internet, has created the ASRG under its research wing, the Internet Research Task Force, which explores various issues for the IETF and seeks answers to Internet-related problems.

The chairman of the new research task force, Paul Judge, director of research and development for antispam vendor CipherTrust, said it is common for half of all Internet traffic to be spam adding that some fixes won't involve much more than tweaking existing protocols or technologies in new ways.

One idea, he said, would be to devise antispam tools that could communicate consent or a denial for an incoming e-mail before it even reaches a corporate firewall or user's mailbox.

The Anti-Spam Research Group's first gathering will be March 20 during the IETF's 56th conference in San Francisco.
-- Todd Weiss

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