- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Virus writers and spammers have created a vast network of hijacked computers that must be cut off from the Internet to slow the assault of junk e-mail, six major Internet providers said yesterday.

The Anti-Spam Technical Alliance (ASTA) said these “zombie” computers are responsible for sending as much as 89 percent of spam e-mail, often without the knowledge of the person who owns the computers.

“There is a large army of these machines,” said Carl Hutzler, America Online’s (AOL) director of antispam operations.

AOL, with Microsoft, Earthlink, Yahoo, Comcast and British Telecom, founded the group in August.

The group said Internet providers must learn to recognize when a hijacked machine is sending spam and quarantine it or take it off the network completely. In some instances, the companies should make it more difficult for customers to set up mail servers on their computers, ASTA said.

In a 19-page report yesterday, the group made more than a dozen other suggestions on how to stop spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mail, which makes up more than two-thirds of message sent worldwide.

ASTA said Internet providers must adopt technologies designed to make it harder for spammers to hide their identities. The industry is working on severalproposals that require senders of e-mail to register their Internet Protocol addresses. By doing this, companies usually can determine whether a message is from an honest sender or a spammer.

Microsoft said it will present its “Sender ID” technology to the industry in the next two weeks. Yahoo, meanwhile, is working on a proposal known as DomainKeys, which uses cryptography to ensure that the content of messages cannot be forged.

ASTA also said Internet providers should limit the amount of e-mail that members can send at one time and forbid anyone from signing up for multiple e-mail accounts using automation software.

In addition, the group said legitimate marketers should avoid sending e-mail containing false subject lines and should allow people to opt out of receiving more advertisements.

Some groups criticized the report for failing to present anything new. Most Internet providers have acted on some of the proposals on their own, and the proposals have been analyzed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, which sets standards for the Internet, as well as marketing groups and antispam advocates.

“This report primarily restates current best practices,” said Ray Everett-Church, legal counsel for the nonprofit Coalition Against Unsolicited E-mail and chief privacy officer for Turntide, a Philadelphia antispam company. “This doesn’t really break new ground.”

But other groups praised ASTA, arguing that its existence signifies a strong front in the fight against spam.

“One of the things we should feel good about is that industry, on its own accord, has been working on this problem for some time,” said Lou Mastria, a spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association. “The visibility that this gives the issue essentially puts spammers on notice.”

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