Four of the largest ISPs--AOL, Earthlink, Microsoft/MSN, and Yahoo!--agreed this week to work together on technology to stop spam. The agreement puts at least a temporary halt to the development of the companies' competing antispam technologies. Instead, as part of the new Anti-Spam Technical Alliance (ASTA), the ISPs will collaborate and pool their resources to battle spam.
"Industry self-regulation is an important component to solving the problem \[of spam\]," Ryan Hamlin, general manager of Microsoft's Anti-Spam Technology & Strategy Team, said. "We're four fierce competitors getting together today and saying we have one common enemy--the spammer."
In the past, each of these companies pushed different antispam technologies, although AOL, Earthlink, and Microsoft agreed last month to pool their approaches. Now, these three companies will work with Yahoo! on a single standard called Sender ID (Caller ID for E-Mail was Microsoft's approach). After the four companies roll out Sender ID, they'll evaluate a second form of spam protection called DomainKeys, which Yahoo! originally proposed. DomainKeys uses cryptography technologies to establish whether an email sender's identity is valid.
ASTA hopes that other email suppliers will follow suit and adopt the Sender ID and DomainKeys technologies, specifically, and also spend time examining their networks for zombie applications that can send bulk mail to unsuspecting victims. Between 40 percent and 90 percent of all spam is sent from zombie-infected computers, according to AOL and Microsoft.
Identity theft is the single biggest spam problem. After spoofing legitimate users' email addresses, malicious spammers send email messages that appear to be from the legitimate users but direct victims to so-called phishing Web sites, which resemble genuine company Web sites. The victims are duped into providing private personal data, such as credit card numbers. "The biggest thing we can do to reduce spam is \[to implement\] sender authentication," Brian Sullivan, senior director of AOL's Mail Operations, said.