China Joins Spam Fight

China is throwing its weight behind an international anti-spam coalition of government agencies and private sector organizations to combat unwanted e-mail messages.

The country announced its intention to join the U.S.- and U.K.-led London Action Plan on Spam Enforcement Collaboration, a group of 29 governmental agencies and 17 private sector groups promoting information sharing and evidence exchange.

“The [Federal Trade Commission] welcomes the Chinese agency’s participation in this project,” said Hugh Stevenson, the FTC’s associate director for international consumer protection. “Spam is recognized as a problem with a great international

dimension and this is part of the international solution.”

Representing China’s interests in the endeavor is Union Network Beijing, a group mandated by the Chinese government to enforce its recent anti-spam law and combat the spread of computer viruses.

Anti-spam organization SpamHaus lists China as the second-largest originator of spam in the world, though it lags far behind the U.S. in terms of number of current spam issues. According to the latest numbers by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the Asian country has nearly 100 million Internet users, 42.8 million of them using a broadband connection.

The country also has a zombie problem, leading the rest of the world in infected computers used as launching pads for spam campaigns and other fraudulent activities, according to an April report by security vendor CipherTrust. The company found that 20 percent of newly discovered zombied computers reside in China, well ahead of the 16 percent in the U.S. and 10 percent in South Korea.

Alun Michael, e-commerce minister for the U.K., said London Action Plan members have been keen on bringing China into the fold and hopes other countries will follow.

“During our presidency of the [European Union] and beyond, we will continue to intensify our activities with Chinese and other partners to address spam and viruses, and therefore contribute to the continued development and safety of the global information society,” Michael said in a statement.

The London Action Plan is an effort to increase spam enforcement cooperation among countries. Members provide points of contact to their counterparts in other countries and work to improve coordination and communication among participants to find spam operations. All work is with an eye towards the cross-border enforcement of spam regulations adopted in home countries.

The effort builds on work undertaken in recent years to promote inter-agency cooperation on spam enforcement legislation, which can differ from country to country. Last year the U.S., U.K. and Australia agreed to share evidence and information to help track down suspected spam operations.

The international group also works with the private sector to mitigate the spread of spam around the world. Earlier this year, the group sent letters to more than 3,000 ISPs worldwide in Operation Spam Zombies, an effort to encourage ISPs to adopt stricter security measures so their customers aren’t as susceptible to viruses and system takeover.

Last month Microsoft stepped up its anti-spam efforts by tracking all incoming Hotmail e-mails using its controversial Sender ID technology. Designed more to prevent phishing and spoofed e-mails , Sender ID authenticates the sender’s server against a list of known, legitimate hosts; if the sender’s actual server doesn’t match what’s shown on the e-mail’s header information, a warning flag goes up.

It doesn’t prevent spam from getting through, but it does help Hotmail users identify potentially fraudulent e-mails.

The technology is only as good as the number of e-mail hosts who add themselves to the Sender ID master list and publish the appropriate tags in their e-mail headers. And while Microsoft isn’t blocking e-mails that aren’t authenticated, the company is planning on instituting tougher filters in the future to protect customers.

Security vendors and trade groups have praised Microsoft’s move to adopt the technology for its more than 190 million active users. Kirill Popov, director of ISP relations and delivery for e-mail marketing firm EmailLabs, said in a statement Tuesday the adoption will help increase consumer confidence in e-mail communications and force senders to adopt the technology.

“Senders with poor consumer-relationship practices will feel the worst effects of failing to implement Sender ID and run the costly risk of losing the attention of their MSN Hotmail Web-based email service users, which is typically 15 percent to 20 percent of a business-to-consumer sender’s database,” he said in a statement.

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