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ISPs gang up on spammers

Spammers could lose internet access

An industry organisation representing heavyweight email providers, including Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL have teamed on recommendations for ending spam, including cutting off the senders' internet access.

A so-called 'Statement of Intent', released on Tuesday by the Anti-Spam Technical Alliance (ASTA), lists suggestions and "best practice" recommendations for ISPs, email service providers, governments, corporations and bulk email senders.

Among them: that ISPs shut down so-called "open relays," or email servers that let parties that do not own the mail server relay mail through them without having to log in first.

The group also suggests ISPs crack down on virus and worm-infected computers on their networks and closely monitor features that let people automatically register for ISP accounts.

If implemented and with the backing of ASTA member companies, the recommendations could greatly reduce the amount of spam e-mail, the group says. The recommendations are the product of more than a year of collaboration between representatives of the member companies. They focus mainly on ISPs whose networks are often used to distribute spam.

ISPs that host Web pages should also remove simple programs that can generate email messages, like formmail.pl, a popular and free program for providing feedback to a web page. ISP customers should also be required to authenticate before sending email from the ISP's network, ASTA says.

For bulk email senders, the group discourages the practice of harvesting email addresses without the consent of the email sender and other common spamming practices.

Consumers aren't a main target for the group. Email users have a duty to educate themselves about spam, but ISPs and others with a stake in email services should do a better job giving consumers tools and information to stop spam, the group says.

Many of the technical suggestions are longtime accepted wisdom in the technical community, says John Levine, a member of the Internet Research Task Force's Anti-Spam Research Group.

"This is all kind of motherhood and apple pie," Levine says. He notes AOL and most other ISPs have been following many of the stated best practices for years.

Still, the recommendations are worthwhile if they can reform the small population of organisations with sloppy mailing practices, he adds.

While not exciting, common sense recommendations like ASTA's are a welcome relief to the Internet community, Levine says. ASTA's document "demonstrates that the technical management of ISPs do understand the email situation well," he adds.

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