Gates gives progress report on anti-spam measures

Filtering technology and collaboration with regulators and law enforcement agencies are being used in the frontline of...

Filtering technology and collaboration with regulators and law enforcement agencies are being used in the frontline of Microsoft’s fight against spam e-mails, according to its chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates.

In an open letter published earlier this week Gates gave a progress report on the measures it has taken to reduce junk e-mails.

"Monetary charges would be inappropriate and contrary to the fundamental purpose of the internet as an extremely efficient and inexpensive medium for communications," he wrote.

The letter, entitled "Preserving and Enhancing the Benefits of Email - A Progress Report", reviewed the software company's work in combating spam and outlined future plans in the fields of filtering and preventive measures, including collaboration with regulators and law-enforcers.

It is the latest in a series of e-mail messages in which Gates and other Microsoft executives address customers, partners and computer users on issues involving technology, public policy and the IT industry. A year ago, Gates also addressed the problem of spam in a message entitled "Toward a Spam-Free Future".

Spamming is becoming more difficult and less lucrative, Gates said. For Microsoft customers, the situation is improving thanks to the introduction of Microsoft's SmartScreen spam filter, which it deployed on its Hotmail web-based e-mail service six months ago.

Last year, Gates said filters on servers at MSN and Hotmail blocked 2.4 billion messages a day. This year, the figure is up to around three billion messages a day, or 95% of incoming spam. That still means Hotmail is letting through an average of one junk message per user a day.

SmartScreen is also available as a free download for users of Exchange Server 2003, Gates said.

Over the next year Microsoft will upgrade the filter, "drawing upon millions of messages that hundreds of thousands of volunteer MSN Hotmail customers have contributed and marked as either spam or non-spam", he said.

In addition to improving filtering technology, Gates promised that Microsoft would make sure e-mail from regularly correspondents is delivered automatically; allow unknown senders to offer proof that they're not spammers, and prevent spam from entering networks.

Microsoft is working with other members of the Anti-Spam Technical Alliance, a group bringing together major ISPs (Internet service providers) to combat e-mail forgery by adopting systems for authenticating e-mail senders. Microsoft has also had a hand in developing the specification for one such system, Sender ID.

Following the help that Microsoft gave US federal agencies that filed joint civil and criminal actions against a group of spammers in April the company filed a further 17 lawsuits in June, bringing the total number of antispam lawsuits it launched to over 90 worldwide.

Microsoft is also looking at ways to increase the computational difficulty of sending e-mail by giving the sender a puzzle to solve before a message is accepted for delivery.

Solving one such puzzle to send a personal message would not be difficult; solving hundreds of thousands of them to complete a spamming run would pose problems. But Gates ruled out the possibility of introducing systems to charge for the sending of messages.

Read more on IT risk management