Authentication can counter more sophisticated spam: e-mail summit

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WASHINGTON - With spam at an all-time high, legitimate mailers need to adhere to best practices to increase the value of e-mail marketing and gain consumer trust, according to speakers at the Direct Marketing Association's E-mail Policy Summit here Friday.

Executives from several major e-mail service providers discussed the state of spam and the importance of striving for high standards when sending marketing messages to consumers in a session titled "Spam: Where is the problem in 2007?"

"We know that legitimate marketers don't send spam, but sometimes they fall victim to bad practices," said Charles Stiles, postmaster at AOL. "Opt-in means little to a consumer and it means little to you as a sender because at the end of the day even if they've opt-ed in they don't necessarily want your messaging.

"It's about relevancy," he said.

Spam is up 40 percent since June 2006, and 80 percent of it is coming from botnets, according to Craig Spiezle, director of online safety technology and strategy at Microsoft.

"The challenge with bots is that they're not sending out millions of messages from one place, but they're sending out hundreds of mails from millions of places," Mr. Spiezle said.

Spammers are getting more sophisticated, too, testing and coming up with new promotions. Porn messaging is down from last year but e-mails from government agencies including the IRS and FDA are now common in spam, according to Mr. Spiezle.

In addition to botnets, spam often comes from zombie computers.

"There are hundreds of millions of zombie computers out there - in March of 2007, we detected 20,000 new phishing sites," said Miles Libbey, manager of anti-spam operations at Yahoo. "We are seeing a trend in stock pump-and-dump schemes."

The panelists emphasized the importance for marketers to adopt authentication tools such as Sender ID Framework by Microsoft - who reported 85 percent fewer false-positives for senders using Sender ID - and Yahoo's Domain Keys.

In addition to reputation tools, the experts suggested that marketers sign up for feedback loops to increase good reputation. According to a Yahoo study, marketers who signed up for feedback loops sent less mail but increased open rates by 25 percent.

"Hopefully, legitimate mailers will sign up for feedback loops and try to understand when consumers do want your mail," Mr. Libbey said. "We envision a world where e-mail is the trusted medium that we grew up with."

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