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Is There Such a Thing as 'Good' Spam?

(By Cynthia L. Webb)

Spam in your e-mail inbox got you down? A group of e-mail service providers and Internet marketers wants to create a way to differentiate bona fide bulk e-mailers from spammers.

The idea sounds good in concept, but it would require cross-industry cooperation and faith that the registration process will actually work. And creating such a system doesn't mean that spam would go away entirely, but in theory bulk mailers would have to follow certain rules to get the proposed seal of approval that their mail isn't spam. The Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC for short^; there's a coalition and an acronym for everything these days), which represents some 30 companies, including Internet advertising-services giant DoubleClick, is an outgrowth of the Network Advertising Initiative.

The ESPC unveiled a plan for the registry and authentication system yesterday. CNET's News.com explains: "The system would require the close cooperation of Internet service providers to implement. In order to gain access to the system, large-volume e-mailers would be required to provide verified address information and to promise to abide by certain best practices. Project Lumos relies on a central registry that would enroll, verify and track e-mail senders, then dole out performance ratings. Once ISPs have a method like this to identify quality e-mail senders, they will be better able to block spammers, according to ESPC. Small mailing-list operators will also be able to sign on to the ID system, but people who send only a few messages at a time would not be included." The system could take at least six months to put together, according to an IDG News Service report.

CNET's News.com: Marketers Unite To Cook Spam's Goose
IDG News Service via PCWorld.com: Antispam Registry Proposed

At ISPCON, a telecommunications conference held in Baltimore this week, the Philadelphia-based ePrivacy Group unveiled its own spam remedy: Senders would have to identify themselves, largely using an industry self-regulating program that sorts legitimate mail from spam. The Trusted Email Open Standard will be announced at the Federal Trade Commission Spam Forum next week, according to the privately held company. Of course, ePrivacy Group just so happens to have its own "patent-pending technology" to help deal with spam, called the SpamSquelcher, which, according to the company, "shapes e-mail traffic to prioritize legitimate email and dramatically slow the flow of spam." ISPCON's lunchtime speech yesterday was all about spam and how sender accountability can help solve the spam problem.

For now, legal cases and spam blocking software programs seem to be the only way to begin to deal with pesky junk e-mails. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Chicago issued a temporary restraining order to keep a St. Louis-based spammer from continuing to inundate people with e-mails that have harmless-sounding subject lines but in fact lead readers to nude photos. The FTC filed a complaint against the spammer, Brian Westby, alleging that Westby used deceptive practices to send out his message.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch: Purveyor of Net Porn Agrees To Halt Net Trickery
washingtonpost.com Special Report: Spam

Oklahoma is joining a list of states trying to tackle spam by passing new prohibition laws. On Tuesday, the state's governor signed Senate Bill 660, which "makes it illegal to put false or misleading information in the subject line or to use a third party's Internet address or domain name without their consent for the purpose of making it look like the e-mail came from a third party," the Associated Press reported.

AP via USAToday.com: State law makes deceptive info in junk e-mail illegal

And in an ironic twist, e-mail marketers are suing anti-spam groups. EmarketersAmerica.org, a Florida-based group that does not appear to have a Web site, filed a lawsuit this month against 12 anti-spam groups, including U.K.-based Spamhaus, a tracker of spam's worst offenders. According to PCWorld.com, the suit claims anti-spammers "have interfered with contracts between marketers and their Internet service providers by petitioning the ISPs to remove the marketers from their networks." The U.K. tech news site The Register explains the suit this way: "A group of Florida-based porn peddlers, penis enlargement and Viagra spammers has united to file suit against anti-spam organisations. Under the newly-registered name EmarketersAmerica.org, a front set up by notorious spammer Eddy Marin's lawyer Mark E. Felstein, the suit seeks to force prominent anti-spam organisations to stop blocking their spam."

PCWorld.com: E-Mail Marketers Sue Anti-Spammers
The Register: Florida Spammers Sue Anti-Spam Groups

Alas, the spam problem only gets bigger, despite all the efforts to solve it. Spam accounts for some 40 percent of all the world's e-mail traffic, according to a BBC News Online article today. The news organization noted that the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology recently found that e-mail addresses that are posted on Web sites and newsgroups get the most spam.

BBC News Online: Where Spam Comes From

Tracking the Invisible Threat

The New York Times today has an article on the global effort to track hard-to-nab hackers and virus writers. "As industry and government seek to repel the attacks for which the Internet is a launching pad, much of the effort involves understanding those who unleash malicious code and jiggle digital doorknobs. In the world that emerged after the Sept. 11 attacks, after all, understanding an elusive enemy has become a growing part of confronting a threat," the newspaper said. The threat of a so-called digital Pearl Harbor launched from an unfriendly country has yet to materialize, security company Symantec told the newspaper. "That could be because those inclined to commit terrorist acts do not yet have the know-how to do significant damage, or perhaps because hackers and adept virus writers are not motivated to disrupt networks for a cause. But should the two groups find common ground, the result could be devastating, said Michael A. Vatis, head of the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College. 'There is still a big gap in our actual knowledge of our actual vulnerabilities to a serious attack,' he said."

The New York Times: Decoding Computer Intruders (Registration required)

Just how far will cyberattackers go to cause damage? The PBS news magazine Frontline tonight will air a special report on Cyber Wars. The Miami Herald said this in a review: "[W]hat if the computerized floodgates on the nation's dams started opening without warning? If that sounds fanciful, Frontline reports, an al Qaeda computer captured in Afghanistan contained models of dams and programs that analyze them. ... Al Qaeda's interest in cyber terrorism has been established beyond a doubt through interrogation of prisoners and examination of captured computers. But there may be other rogues lurking in the digital twilight." The Boston Globe said this in its review: "Given the topic, the film isn't visually enticing. It relies heavily on talking heads, some of whom are scary at times with their dire predictions. Others raise more questions than they answer because they use industry jargon and refuse to disclose classified information."

The Miami Herald: 'Frontline' Exposes Chilling Threat of Cyber Attacks
The Boston Globe: 'Frontline' focuses on threat to US from cyberspace

Chat With Frontline!: Award-winning producer and documentary filmmaker Michael Kirk, who put together the cybersecurity piece, will be live online tomorrow at 11 a.m. ET on washingtonpost.com. Click here to submit a question and/or read the chat.

SARS's Silicon Infection

SARS, the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome that's rapidly spreading across the globe, is giving hackers yet another opportunity to menace the public. Someone, somewhere with too much time on his or her hands, concocted an e-mail virus, called Coronex, that "aims to persuade people to open an attachment offering details on the current epidemic. Subject lines include 'Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome', 'SARS Virus' and 'Hongkong.exe.' If opened the worm forwards itself to all contacts in the Outlook address book," BBC News Online reported. Anti-virus firm Sophos issued a warning about the new virus yesterday. Symantec also has details on the worm.

BBC News Online: E-Mail Virus Exploits SARS Fears
The Sydney Morning Herald: E-Mail Worm Looks To Capitalize On SARS Fears
InfoWorld: New E-Mail Worm Exploits SARS Anxiety

AOL Time Warner's Numbers

AOL Time Warner's announcement yesterday that it earned $396 million during its first quarter was welcome news for an online media sector that has been hit by subscriber losses and earnings slumps. It was also a much-needed development for the company, whose America Online Internet unit has been racked by losses in the past year and an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Washington Post concluded that "(f)or chief executive Richard D. Parsons, who soon will also take on the title of chairman, the good news bolstered his leadership atop the media giant. Parsons consolidated power earlier this year when America Online founder Steve Case and Vice Chairman Ted Turner announced that they were resigning." AOL's stock rallied on the news too, rising more than 5 percent to close at $14 a share.

The Washington Post: AOL Parent Is Again Profitable

Don't get out the congratulatory cake yet. The Wall Street Journal noted: "The results were significantly better than the company's forecast delivered at the end of January, perhaps the best news for AOL's long-suffering shareholders in a year. But some analysts remained wary, noting that the results were boosted by film and video revenue, which is more volatile than subscription or ad revenue. And in a discouraging note, America Online's subscriber losses accelerated sharply in the quarter, with subscribers defecting to rivals' high-speed Internet services."

The Wall Street Journal: AOL Swings To A Profit, Boosted By Film, Cable

Source: www.washingtonpost.com

Cybercrime News Archive

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