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Microsoft enlists IronPort for antispam effort

Microsoft has teamed up with messaging appliance supplier IronPort Systems to bring new antispam capabilities for users of Microsoft's Hotmail.com and MSN.com e-mail services.

Under the deal, Microsoft will allow suppliers that are registered and preapproved in IronPort's Bonded Sender program to send e-mails to Hotmail and MSN users without the messages being subject to normal Hotmail or MSN antispam controls. Recipients can then choose to receive e-mails from the bonded senders by opting in for the commercial e-mail.

Bonded Sender is an IronPort program that identifies legitimate commercial e-mail senders that have put up a financial bond and adhere to rules about how they will send mail to recipients, said Tom Gillis, a senior vice president of worldwide marketing at IronPort.

The program addresses the problem of spam filters falsely identifying legitimate commercial e-mail as spam and deleting it. The bonds range from $500 to tens of thousands of dollars and are subject to seizure if the senders violate program rules. Senders pay to make the service work, so there is no cost to Microsoft or e-mail recipients.

Under the deal, Microsoft will allow commercial e-mails to flow from the approximately 50 bonded senders in the program so far to its 170 million active Hotmail and two million MSN users who choose to opt in and receive the e-mail. That gives the senders a clear path to e-mail boxes to deliver their messages.

Google is one of the existing bonded senders. It uses the service to help deliver its newsletters and other e-mails that recipients sign up for without fearing that the mail will be deleted by spam filters.

Microsoft is the latest of about 28,000 ISPs, universities and corporations that have signed up to receive bonded sender mail after testing the program for about five months. "They wanted to make sure that it was rock solid," Gillis said. "We've been able to pass that test."

George Webb, group business manager of antispam technology and strategy at Microsoft, said IronPort's bonded sender program essentially creates a third-party, safe-mail list that can help e-mail recipients get the messages they want. "We think that's a promising development," Webb said.

E-mail senders who want to join the bonded sender program must undergo a certification process by Truste, a privacy group that has certified some 1,300 websites as meeting its privacy requirements. Up to a third of applicants are turned away because they do not meet the group's standards regarding how they obtain e-mail addresses and whether they have prior business relationships with e-mail recipients, said Fran Maier, executive director of Truste.

Analysts said the program has promise to help legitimate e-mail senders get their messages across while shielding recipients from true junk mail.

"I think it is a really good first step that Microsoft is moving forward with this," said David Daniels, an analyst at Jupitermedia. "It really represents the first major ISP or receiver of mail to signal that the reputation of the sender of the mail is as important as their identity."

Matt Cain, an analyst at Meta Group, said the program works only "using the premise that users want to get opt-in mail".

"This program will let legitimate commercial e-mail pass through," he said. "Assuming people want to get legitimate commercial e-mail, there's going to be fewer false positives."

Todd R Weiss writes for Computerworld


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