China joins global fight against spam

The Internet Society of China is blocking e-mails sent from 127 servers identified as sources of spam.

The Internet Society of China is blocking e-mails sent from 127 servers identified as sources of spam.

Members of the ISC, which include Chinese government bodies, companies and ISPs, will no longer accept e-mails that have been routed through any of 127 mail servers identified last month by the group's Anti-Spam E-Mail Co-ordination Team as sources of bulk unsolicited e-mail.

The list is heavily tilted towards blocking spam sent from servers in Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, and includes eight servers in China, 90 servers in Taiwan and 27 servers in other countries, including 16 in the US and six in South Korea.

The ISC has been concerned for some time with the mounting problem posed by spam and actions taken by ISPs in other countries to blacklist Chinese servers that are used to distribute unsolicited e-mails.

"The Internet Society of China wants to try our best to restore normal e-mail communications with the outside world for domestic internet users," the group said in a statement posted on its website.

To achieve this, the group has proposed a series of steps needed "to prevent the spread of spam and to eliminate the negative effects caused by the blocking of China’s e-mail service providers".

The steps include calling on the government to develop stricter laws and regulations to help stop the spread of spam, encouraging Chinese ISPs to adopt anti-spam technology, educating users about spam, getting ISPs to block e-mail access for spammers, and keeping a list of e-mail providers and spammers sending unsolicited e-mail with "evil intentions".

"If they make a push to take care of spam, it will have some success," said Justin Mallen, chief executive officer of Silk Road Technologies, an internet data centre in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

There are several reasons why spam has become such a problem in China. Chinese network administrators tend to be less aggressive in managing their systems, Mallen said. In addition, security precautions are often inadequate, allowing spammers to hijack a company's mail server.

Another problem is the sheer size of the dominant telecommunications operators.

"China Telecom is the primary carrier in China and internet data centres are such a small part of their business, so they don't pay much attention to spam," Mallen said.

"We warn [spammers] and tell them to stop," Mallen said. "It's in our contracts that we don't support that."

The list of servers being blocked by ISC, which includes eight run by Chinese companies, falls far short of a list of Chinese ISPs that are used to distribute spam.  The Spamhaus Project has identified 633 servers at 82 Chinese ISPs - including several ISC members - which serve as sources of spam.

The Spamhaus Project maintains a database of spam servers using technology based on DNS (Domain Name System) that can be used to help block bulk unsolicited e-mail.

The ISC's list is also significantly shorter than a list of spam servers it tracked between November 2002 and June this year. During that period, a spam collection system deployed by ISC received 3.5 million spam e-mails sent from 960 servers in China, 127 servers in Hong Kong, 248 servers in Taiwan and 2,264 servers in other countries, the group said.

After meeting between June and August to review the list, ISC members reduced the number of spam servers to 23 in China, four in Hong Kong, 97 in Taiwan and 101 in other countries. The group did not disclose the method by which the number of servers had been reduced.

The companies responsible for operating these servers were given one month, from 8 August, to halt the spread of spam from their servers. For companies that did not comply, ISC had threatened further measures would be taken, resulting in the effort to block access from spam servers.

Following the publication last month of the list of 127 servers distributing spam, the ISC sustained two continuous attempts to disrupt its own servers between 21 August and 27 August. The specific nature of the attacks, which were linked by the group to the publication of the list of servers used to send spam, was not disclosed.

Sumner Lemon writes for IDG News Service

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