- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

Late at night, after he puts his children to bed, Marty Lamb works to hit spammers where it hurts the most: their wallets.

The Downingtown, Pa., resident is sick of getting unwanted e-mail, known as spam, and has realized, along with many other spam foes, that traditional e-mail filters and legislation simply aren’t doing enough to stop the flow.

So, when he’s done with his day job as a software designer, he works on TarProxy, a system designed to slow the rate at which spammers send unwanted messages, thereby cutting into their profit margins.

“A lot of the [antispam] tools you may be familiar with are focused on eliminating pain for the [e-mail] user,” said Mr. Lamb in a presentation Friday to fellow spam fighters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s annual Spam Conference. “TarProxy’s approach is a little bit different. Its focus is on creating pain for the spammers.”

Mr. Lamb compared his system to putting a telemarketer on hold for several minutes, then picking up the phone, only to put it back down again. In theory, the telemarketer will hang up and move on, and Mr. Lamb believes TarProxy would frustrate spammers into stopping their messages.

Spam makes up more than half of all e-mail sent worldwide, and more than 70 percent in the United States, according to recent statistics. Analysts estimate businesses lose up to $10 billion each year in lost productivity and services.

Mr. Lamb’s TarProxy solution, which is still under development, is similar to those of many of the spam fighters who presented ideas at MIT last week.

They said spam filters, despite becoming more accurate each day, still allow too much spam to reach the e-mail user and do nothing to prevent spammers from sending their messages in the first place.

Recently passed laws designed to regulate spam are difficult to enforce and likely be ignored, they said.

“Let’s put our brain power toward stopping [spam] before it’s sent, so you don’t have to worry about it at the back end,” said Peter Kay, president of Titan Key, a Hawaii-based company offering an e-mail system that can block the sending of spam.

In his presentation at MIT, Mr. Kay was critical of filtering techniques, many of which still burden the e-mail recipient by putting spam into a separate quarantine that must then be deleted. He said that by doing nothing to stop spammers from sending, filters can’t help ease the burden on Internet providers, who must add bandwidth and develop systems to handle a rising volume of e-mail.

For their part, developers of spam filters said they are constantly working to improve their products and make them more user-friendly.

But many spam opponents said that isn’t good enough, given the billions of messages sent each day. Some suggested the cost of spam should be shifted back to the spammers by requiring “postage stamps” on each piece of e-mail. Others have suggested overhauling the architecture of e-mail to make it harder to send e-mail anonymously.

Still others at the MIT conference said unwanted e-mail can be stopped more effectively if technology targeted not only the senders of spam, but the people who collect e-mail addresses illegally and sell them to spammers.

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