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TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Solution Ideas (Part 3)

August 29th, 2003 · No Comments

Legislation has been seen as one possible route to battle spam. However, that is not the solution, according to John Patrick: The legislation is well intentioned, spam is truly a huge problem, but it just won’t workThe answer is to enforce existing laws, utilize spam-fighting technology, and begin the process to re-design the way email works. Continues John:

Companies such as Cloudmark and Brightmail have technology that can enable the corporate mail servers to block spam or at least flag it as “probable spam” to allow employees to use a filter or rule to delete it automatically if they choose toCBS MarketWatch reported that PC Magazine has studied what you can do about spam. In a test of four “spam slammers,” CloudMark’s SpamNet ($4.99/month subscription) was top rated, followed by Matador 2.0 ($29.95/program), SpamCatcher ($19.95/program), and IHateSpam ($19.95/program), when ranked according to the percent of spam dumped into a quarantine folder. Each of the programs maintains a database of spammers and incorporates users’ feedback on what’s identified as spam to filter e-mails. “Keep in mind, though, that these products are far from perfect. They occasionally block messages they shouldn’t, and if you don’t regularly visit your quarantine, you’ll certainly miss a small percentage of important mail,” the magazine concluded. That has not been the case for me as I mentioned in the prior paragraph. The bottom line is that these spam fighting programs really work and I recommend everyone adopt one.

Long term, the way in which email works needs to be re-engineered. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has formed a research group called the Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG) to come up with creative and profound changes in the way email works at the core. The ASRG focuses on “the problem of unwanted email messages, loosely referred to as spam” and their premise is that an individual or organization should be able to “express consent or lack of consent for certain communication and have the architecture support those desires”. The ASRG plans to investigate the feasibility of a new architecture for email that “allows different systems to be plugged in to provide different pieces of the solution”.

I am sure the solution will include some form of authentication (as I have argued before). Once the real identity of an email sender is rendered explicit you have a lot more options for how to treat that email. (There are numerous other benefits from digital ID’s beyond reducing spam). I am optimistic about the long term fix but, needless to say, what is being undertaken here is enormously complex and it will take time. To get the protocol changes adopted as a global standard and then be globally implemented will take years.

Adds Ross Mayfield : Commercial spam will not be solved by regulation or filters, trusted email networks that use challenge-response to confirm ties could be an interim solution at best. The only solution is changing economic incentives. Occupational spam cannot be solved by opt-in or opt-out techniques Decentralizing authorship, readership, administration and moderation pushes costs to the edge. This is made possible from a base of standards. Web nativity, an optional structure and social filtering process keeps spam out of trusted personal networks.

Next Week: The Death and Rebirth of Email (continued)


TECH TALK The Death and Rebirth of Email+T

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