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Microsoft, developer team up to fight spam

Microsoft and Pobox.com co-founder said on Tuesday they would work together to provide a single standard that would make it easier for Internet providers to block spam.
/ Source: Reuters

The backers of two anti-spam proposals said on Tuesday they would work together to provide a single standard that would make it easier for Internet providers to block unwanted junk e-mail.

Giant software company Microsoft Corp. and Pobox.com co-founder Meng Wong said they would combine their approaches, which both aim to weed out fake e-mail addresses used by spammers to cover their tracks. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Both Microsoft's Caller ID for e-mail and Wong's Sender Policy Framework would allow Internet providers to check that a message from joe@example.com actually comes from the numerical addresses used by example.com's e-mail servers. Mail that did not match up could be safely rejected as spam.

The standard would pose few difficulties for most companies that handle e-mail, and individual users would not have to make any changes at all.

E-mail forwarders like Pobox.com would have to make the biggest efforts to comply with the new standard, Wong said.

"What we're trying to do is tell if an incoming e-mail is really coming from where it says it's coming from," Wong told Reuters.

Spammers often appropriate the e-mail addresses of others in order to slip through content filters, a tactic known as "spoofing."

Spoofing is especially popular with scam artists who pose as companies like Citigroup and eBay Inc. in an attempt to collect credit card numbers and other sensitive information.

E-mail authentication proposals have been floating around since at least 1998, but experts have given the concept more attention over the past year as spam has exploded to account for up to 83 percent of all traffic.

Wong's standard has been tested by Time Warner Inc.'s America Online, EarthLink Inc. and other Web companies which see their domain names frequently spoofed by spammers.

Internet portal Yahoo Inc., meanwhile, has proposed another approach known as DomainKeys that would use digital signatures to authenticate e-mail.

Wong said he and Microsoft aimed to submit their combined proposal to the standards-setting Internet Engineering Task Force for approval in a month, with the hopes that it could be widely adopted in a year or so.