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Industry Standard

Next wave of attacks against spammers underway

October 11, 1999
Web posted at: 1:14 p.m. EDT (1714 GMT)

by Margret Johnston spam graphic

(IDG) -- A year-old organization devoted to controlling spam is preparing new proposals that will give Internet service providers more weapons to fight the bane of electronic mail.

The Mail Abuse Prevention System offers subscribers free access to its Realtime Blackhole List of Internet addresses of spammers and IP networks that accommodate them, even inadvertently. About 180 ISPs, particularly small and medium-sized operations that can't afford their own investigators, use the RBL to block messages from the IP addresses on the list.

"Being listed on MAPS' RBL hurts a lot," said Nick Nicholas, executive director of MAPS. MAPS adds about 40 entries to the list every week, but about half that number are removed weekly after alleged spammers agree to play by the rules.

But MAPS also offers two other ways to protect against spammers, and one of the proposals floated at a roundtable meeting on e-mail abusewould combine all three into a new service called RBL+, for which subscribers would have to pay.
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RBL+ would combine the current RBL with MAPS' Dial-up User List, a list of spammers who use direct connections to the recipients' mail servers without using an ISP as a gateway. It would also include MAPS' Relay Spam Stopper, which lists unsecured relays that have been used to transmit spam.

The idea is not to make money by charging for RBL+, said Nicholas, who participated in the roundtable, which was organized by UUNet Technologies. The fee for RBL+, which could go up to $10,000 depending on the size of the subscriber, would help MAPS recoup the costs of creating the lists, said Nicholas, adding that nonprofit organizations and schools would not be charged.

"It would provide a more efficient and more comprehensive way to block spam," Nicholas said.

There's growing concern among ISPs about spam and its effect on their ability to keep customers. A Gartner Group (IT) survey released in June that queried more than 13,000 Internet users showed that 36 percent of the respondents would leave their ISP in order to escape unsolicited e-mail.

About three-quarters of the respondents said their ISP should regulate spam, and one-third of them said their ISP was doing a poor or very poor job, the survey showed.

Multilevel marketing messages that offer opportunities to earn money on the Internet are the No. 1 type of spam, followed by spam advertising pornography on the Internet, said Tim Pozar, VP of operations at Brightmail. Another trend indicates growth in spam originating outside the U.S., according to Pozar, who cited South Korea as one of the current countries of choice for foreign spammers.

John Bradshaw, director of customer security at UUNet, described a new type of spam that appears innocuous at first, but that shows that spammers know how to manipulate the Internet. These spammers send e-mails directing users to a particular search engine where they are told to enter specific key words. When the search results appear, the spammers' own sites are listed at the top, Bradshaw said.

To give ISPs tools beyond the RBL, MAPS also is pursuing the idea of creating a clearinghouse, according to Nicholas. This would help control the problem of spammers who sign up with an ISP and use it for as little as a few hours to send out their messages. "It's the same customers coming back over and over again to different ISPs each time," Nicholas said. "They know they are going to be canceled."

ISPs would provide the clearinghouse with a list of the offenders and the list would be shared among the ISPs participating in the clearinghouse so they would know ahead of time whether the applicant had been identified as a spammer. The system would be modeled on a method used by cellular telephone service providers to warn each other about people who have a poor record of paying their bills.

Representatives of several companies, including MCI WorldCom and RoadRunner, expressed interest in the clearinghouse. Nicholas said he was in the process of forming an advisory board for it.

The goal of a third MAPS project is to create a best practices document in cooperation with bulk e-mail companies. Nicholas has written and begun circulating a draft of the document, and the bulk e-mail companies, including Message Media, Topic A, White Hat and Business Link, are in the early stages of discussing it, Nicholas said.

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Yahoo Sues Spammer
(PC World Online)
FTC Wages War on Spam
(The Industry Standard)
Feds mull approaches to stop spam
Magaziner on Net Censorship: Why Bother?
(The Industry Standard)
ISPs Fight Common Enemy: Spam
(PC World Online)
Meet the spammers
(The Industry Standard)
Antispam Group Criticizes EU Proposal
(The Industry Standard)
Year 2000 World
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