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Aust spam enforcers turn to forensics for 'dobbing' campaign

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) is stepping up its anti-spam campaign by deploying forensic technology to collect and examine suspect e-mails to obtain evidence that may be used in court action against spammers.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) is stepping up its anti-spam campaign by deploying forensic technology to collect and examine suspect e-mails to obtain evidence that may be used in court action against spammers.

The ACA -- which administers Australia's anti-spam legislation -- has signed an agreement to extend use of Australian-developed forensic technology beyond a current closed trial with Pacific Internet to an open trial with all of the Internet service provider's 20,000-odd users, starting tomorrow. The closed trial had kicked off in September this year.

If the one-month trial is successful, the ACA is expected to deploy the technology to the broader Australian public from early in 2005.

ACA enforcement staff, including those working with the Australian High-Tech Crime Centre, have access to the system.

David Jones, chief executive officer of the privately-owned company that owns the forensic technology, SpamMatters, said the ACA wanted to use the system "to identify spam activity and where required, [obtain] evidence for use in possible court action".

If the full rollout proceeds, members of the public who use Outlook or Outlook Express can send suspect e-mails via the SpamMatters system to the ACA's forensics database system using one click after obtaining plug-ins from the ACA Web site. Users of other e-mail programs can submit them using a Web form submission or as an attachment to a forwarded e-mail. The e-mails enter the database via the Internet where the SpamMatters software automatically assigns them to existing spam campaigns or cases, while common spam techniques are identified and logged. As well as obtaining the forensic data required for further investigation, Jones said, the SpamMatters software could also identify where spammers have used zombies -- personal computers infected and Trojaned by viruses or worms -- to deliver the spam. Investigators could find the location of those zombies, their originating country and Internet service provider.

Jones said the SpamMatters technology had processed 1.3 million spam submissions since September.

"Spam has not just increased 30 percent in volume during 2004, but is becoming increasingly criminal content and the role of enforcement is becoming critical".

The ACA said in July Australia's anti-spam legislation -- then in operation for around three months -- had proved a deterrent to local spammers. It said it had received 30,000 reports of spam since the laws came into effect and had advised 100 businesses to improve their e-mail practices.

However, only 2 percent of global spam received in Australia came from Australian sources, with the ACA signing agreements with the United States, South Korea and Britain to further reduce spam.