- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates yesterday outlined his company’s new efforts to battle the onslaught of unwanted e-mail, including an e-mail “Caller ID” system designed to weed out the most deceptive spam.

Mr. Gates said the integrity of e-mail is being threatened not only by the massive volume of spam, but the “spoofing” of domain names that allows spammers to send e-mail undetected. The Caller ID system would allow e-mail filters to distinguish between legitimate e-mail and messages sent from spammers.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant plans to begin a pilot program with its Hotmail users this summer.

“Having e-mail come in, and not really being able to identify where it comes from, this is a huge security hole,” Mr. Gates said during a keynote speech at an Internet security conference sponsored by RSA Security Inc. in San Francisco.

Microsoft also plans to work on a broader “Coordinated Spam Reduction Initiative” to advance policy and technology changes to fight spam. The company wants to help legitimate companies that use e-mail to more easily distinguish themselves from spammers.

Microsoft is working on several technological solutions to fight spam, including advanced filters and systems that make sending mass quantities of e-mail more difficult. It is also advancing a “micropayments” system that would make spammers pay for every message sent.

Microsoft said the Caller ID system will require e-mail senders to publish the Internet Protocal addresses of their mail servers in a “policy document” that can be read by most computer systems. The software examines the message to determine its origin.

Spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mail, makes up more than half of all e-mail sent worldwide, costing businesses tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity and services, according to some estimates. Microsoft, which owns the MSN Internet and Hotmail e-mail services, has more than 145 million active e-mail subscribers.

Microsoft acknowledged that many spammers have already found ways to get around the Caller ID system. Some are using viruses and worms to sneak into computers and send waves of e-mail messages. And more honest spammers who don’t hide the origin of their messages would not be hindered.

Many spam foes have criticized Microsoft’s spam efforts, arguing that the software giant is using technologies already in development by other companies.

“In some respects, they have been a little behind the curve in dealing with this,” said Ray Everett-Church, legal counsel to the nonprofit Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, who did not attend the RSA conference.Microsoft is sort of just now getting around to this and just now beginning to entertain some of the proposals out there.”

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