RealTime IT News

Spam-Fighting Triumvirate Formed

The spam epidemic has reached global proportions, debilitating e-mail systems everywhere. But with some muscle power from the Brits and Down Under, so has the fight against it.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to share evidence in the fight against the ever-growing problem of spam , officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last week.

As part of this "ground-breaking" international deal, the U.K. Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the FTC will engage in evidence exchange, information sharing to detect and investigate international spam activities and enforcement coordination, according to U.K. ministry officials. The three agencies will review the agreement on an annual basis, with an eye toward expanding the scope of information- and investigation-sharing.

"With most spam coming from outside the U.K., this deal forges our individual initiatives and puts the fight against spam on a global footing," said U.K. Communications Minister Stephen Timms, in a statement. "Our countries have a long history of cooperation; together we aim to keep the Internet a safe and enjoyable community for all users."

The agreement is far more beneficial for Australia and the U.K., because their agencies will have access to the enforcement arm of the United States, the country that produces most of the spamming activity. Through a series of legislative maneuvers, the United States has inadvertently created the largest spam-friendly haven in the world.

Last year, Congress passed Can Spam, legislation requiring unsolicited messages to contain a legitimate opt-out mechanism. Many critics say it gives spammers a legal avenue to put unwanted e-mails into the inboxes of Internet users. So far, the bill has resulted in a couple of indictments -- one in March and one in April.

The Can Spam Act gave the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforcement powers to handle the spam problem. Since then, the FTC has been working to define the scope of the issue, calling for public comments on specific details.

One response came from Congress, which called for the FTC to create a do-not-spam list, similar in scope to the agency's do-not-call registry. But the agency issued a report in June saying it would not support a Do-Not-Spam e-mail registry.

Yael Weinman, a legal advisor in the FTC's international division of consumer protection, said the registry is a non-issue until the matter of e-mail header authentication is settled.

She said the FTC will be looking at other methods of fighting spam, notably at a first-of-its-kind international meeting this October. The anti-spam divisions of enforcement agencies from around the world will meet for the first time to discuss combating the growing spam problem.

To date, there isn't an over-reaching agreement between all foreign agencies, though many have existing consumer protection MOUs, Weinman said. The meetings, which take place in London, are a first step in getting everyone talking about the problem, she said.

"We're always talking to our colleagues in other countries; we have relationships with other countries where we have memoranda of understanding with them relating to consumer protection. But none of those discussions, yet, have culminated in a signed document," she said.

Since Can Spam went into effect, the number of daily spam outbreaks has increased 43 percent from 350,000 to 500,000, according to a recent study. The United States accounts for more than half of that output with 55.7 percent, which is followed by South Korea at 10.2 percent and China at 6.6 percent. Within two years, the report author states, spam will account for 98 percent of all e-mail.

According to the Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam site that monitors spam activities, seven of the 10 worst spammers in the world work out of the United States (the other three are in Russia). And American ISPs dominate the project's "Top 10 Worst Spam ISPs," according to June 2004 figures.