The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has created the Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG) to look for new ways to banish unwanted e-mail.
The IETF, the main standards body for the internet, has created the ASRG under its research wing, the Internet Research Task Force, which explores various issues for the IETF and seeks answers to Internet-related problems.
"The problem of spam has tremendously altered the way we use the Internet," said the chairman of the new research task force, Paul Judge, who is also director of research and development for CipherTrust. "It's now common to see that half of all Internet traffic is spam."
Many of today's commercial antispam products deal with the problem locally on a server or PC by filtering e-mail and trying to sort it into wanted messages and spam. "But that really doesn't solve the problem globally, because all those messages are still travelling the internet, hogging bandwidth," Judge said.
The group will re-examine the problem and existing anti-spam products in an effort to find new spam controls. Some fixes may not involve much more than tweaking existing protocols or technologies in new ways.
"People really haven't taken a research approach or view of the spam problem," Judge said. "There's a large audience seeking solutions to this problem."
He cited internet service providers, businesses and mail system suppliers as all having a vested interest in devising new solutions. One idea, he said, would be to devise anti-spam tools that could communicate consent or a denial for an incoming e-mail before it even reaches a corporate firewall or user's mailbox.
"We're not looking for a buy-in from the spammers," he said."We're looking for an infrastructure that will give protection to the users."
Judge said he hoped to have some answers by the end of the year. Although the research group will not create new internet-related standards, its work can be used by the IETF to do so later on.
Analysts called the move good news, but were mixed on whether it will succeed. Eric Hemmendinger, an analyst at Aberdeen Group called the decision "a small milestone" but added, "Let's not overrate it."
He added that some technical innovations may come up, but that would depend on whether they can be implemented by suppliers or will make sense to IT leaders trying to run businesses more efficiently.
Hemmendinger said that with so many antispam products already on the market, the research group may be too little, too late.
"They're already past the opportunity to have dealt with standards," he said.
Chad Robinson, an analyst at Robert Frances Group , said the group's success would depend on whether it could find answers quickly. If it took too long to reach a consensus, the problem would worsen and the group would not have a big impact. "I view this work as important, but only as a step in the right direction."
Michael Osterman, an analyst at Osterman Research, was more hopeful. "The market is very much in flux. There can really be an advantage to a standards-based approach to this [problem]. Some solutions today are very good. I could see standards only improving that."
The Anti-Spam Research Group's first gathering will be on 20 March during the IETF's 56th conference in San Francisco.