Spam legislation should be released on a global scale if it is to be successful, Alyn Hockey believes.
The recent "spam summit" held in the Houses of Parliament is evidence that ministers and MPs are recognising the threat spam poses to e-business.
Although legislation must be enforced, we cannot simply ban all unsolicited e-mail. Legislation in the UK is unlikely to affect spammers in the US or the Far East, so governments around the world will have to work together to make an impact.
The volume of spam entering a network can be significantly reduced by blocking known offenders, but when hundreds of thousands of spam e-mails are generated every week, it is difficult to keep up.
Other tools, such as verifying that the sender is "real" can help in separating spam from legitimate e-mail. More sophisticated tools learn the style of spam messages and can filter out e-mails containing topics such as "diet", "Viagra" or "loans".
Even with appropriate legislation and anti-spam technology, there is a large security hole made by the end-user. Many users do not understand the implications of spam or the best way to prevent its proliferation, such as not opening the e-mail.
There is also the common belief that spam is a problem for the IT department. Organisations must educate their employees and raise awareness of their role in the fight against spam.
It is critical to establish guidelines for subscribing to e-mail newsletters and websites that require an e-mail address. Policies are also needed to specify how employees should handle unsolicited e-mails.
If governments, organisations and end-users all work together, it should be possible to put a ceiling on the growth of spam and even start reducing it.
However, it is important to realise that spam is only one threat. The worry is that spammers will find another way of exploiting e-mail by the time spam is addressed.
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Alyn Hockey is director of research at Clearswift
This was first published in July 2003