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What’s New On the Web: Spam

Many users of the Infinite Connection’s E-mail Forwarding for Life have noticed an increase in the amount of unsolicited e-mail, or spam, coming to their alum.mit.edu addresses.

Please be assured that the Alumni Association is not responsible for spam. The MIT Alumni Association uses your e-mail only for official MIT business, and your e-mail address is not public information unless you make it such. MIT takes its responsibility to protect your privacy very seriously.

The growth in spam has been exponential. By the end of 2002, spam accounted for 38 percent of all e-mail traffic, up from 8 percent only a year earlier. This inundation of unwanted e-mail results in huge losses of employee productivity, the slowing of Internet traffic, as well as large amounts of wasted disk-drive and server space, and the waste of other information technology resources.

The European Community and 26 U.S. states have enacted various kinds of antispam legislation. Massachusetts seems likely to join them. It may be too early to judge whether or not legislation is an effective solution, and there are those who argue that such laws could, in fact, create more spam. John Mozena of the Coalition against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail told the Boston Globe that “if spam regulations weed out the worst possible offenders, legitimate business could decide that spamming is now respectable and launch a new tidal wave of e-mail ads.”

Several kinds of spam-filtering solutions are now in use by most major Internet service providers. Many already use real-time blacklists that are maintained and updated by groups such as the United Kingdom’s Spamhaus. In addition, increasing numbers of service providers are employing logic-based server-side filters created by companies such as Brightmail. Typically, these approaches monitor and profile current e-mail scams, alerting business subscribers so that the companies or their service providers can filter them before they reach end users. Brightmail claims to catch more than 90 percent of spam, but according to a recent Newsweek article, “watchdog groups think the number is closer to half.”

Spam is the leading complaint from most Internet customers, and many service providers are heavily promoting their antispam efforts. However, as Spamhaus and others who compile blacklists point out, service providers themselves are sources of junk e-mail, unknowingly or even knowingly providing support for stealth-mailing services. Some prestigious Internet domains have, as a result, ended up on blacklists.

Open Source advocates and Perl aficionados are utilizing several antispam solutions, including rule-based filters such as the highly-regarded SpamAssassin and SpamSheild and a distributed system called Vipu’s Razor, or SpamNet. The heated debate among proponents of such solutions and their detractors continues-like spam- unabated.

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