Choking on spam

No one thing can stop spam from overwhelming email. A coordinated response is required
Written by Leader , Contributor
The fight against spam is being lost. At the current rate of increase, says Steve Linford of Spamhaus, 95 percent of all email will be spam by this time next year. That level of parasitic load is an impossible burden on any system -- and email is the most important single service on the Internet.

We're in a vicious circle. Spammers work on commission of up to 50 percent of the sale price of the goods they pimp. A couple of thousand sales can net them upwards of £10,000, and they don't care whether it takes a hundred million or a billion emails to get there. As anti-spam techniques get better, all the spammers have to do is increase the range and number of emails they send out -- and the greater the pressure on the Internet's mail systems.

In America, the Can-Spam Act tried to moderate this problem by creating legal pathways for unrequested email advertising while making spam that didn't stick to the rules illegal. It's resulted in some prosecutions, and it's impossible to say what would have happened if the act hadn't been passed. Nevertheless, the amount of spam in America has continued to rise at much the same rate as before.

There has to be a co-ordinated response across the board. Governments must create laws that make spamming not worth the risk, with fines that dwarf the riches that tempt the spammers. Germany's new law promises fines of up to €50,000 -- which a good spammer could make back in a month, a ferocious one in a week. ISPs must be more aggressive in spotting and filtering zombies, and cooperate more with each other and with researchers. Individual users must follow basic rules of online hygiene. Operating system and application software vendors must accept responsibility for security holes in their products. They should also cooperate on developing the protocols and systems needed to stop spam at source. If any one of these components is lacking, the cash equation will make it worthwhile for spammers to carry on spamming.

Spam will stop when spamming is too difficult, too expensive and too dangerous to be profitable. Only a systematic attempt to make it so can have that effect. We don't have long to get it right.

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