ISPs, Telecoms Form Spam-Fighting Group

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A group of Internet service providers and telecommunications companies joined forces this week to form a group dedicated to fighting spam as the industry gropes to find a more proactive approach to the torrent of unwanted e-mail.

The alliance, called the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, comprises 22 ISPs and messaging services companies including Adelphia, Bell Canada, BellSouth and Cox. The group agreed to jointly develop a code of conduct related to abuse; work toward a trusted SMTP protocol for intercarrier messaging; and share best practices for dealing with spam. The alliance also will work to develop an e-mail architecture that accurately identifies senders.

"We are of a strong belief that very strong collaborative effort to determine the right sender-authentication protocol is a must," said Omar Tellez, senior director of product development at Openwave, Redwood City, CA, a messaging-software company that organized the group. "It's a critical step in stopping spam."

Members come from across the world and represent 80 million Internet subscribers and 40 million e-mail accounts, including wireless operators. Tellez said Openwave organized the group after its clients saw their spam levels rise to 75 percent of all mail they receive, costing them in bandwidth and customer churn.

"We're taking a proactive rather than a reactive approach," he said.

It is the second industry-wide group dedicated to fighting spam, joining an alliance of the top ISPs -- AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft and EarthLink -- formed in April. So far, the Big Four group has produced few common approaches.

Last month, Yahoo broke ranks and floated its own proposal for combating spoofing with its DomainKeys system, which would authenticate e-mail using a public-private key encryption system.

Yahoo, which plans to institute DomainKeys this year, said it would freely distribute the software. Yahoo has not released the technical details of how the system would work or gained endorsement of it by any other ISP, prompting some to worry DomainKeys will lead to a fragmented system of incompatible authentication standards.

Representatives from the Big Four are expected to attend an anti-spam conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology today.

Tellez said he believed collaboration between the two groups is necessary if an authentication protocol is to work. MAAWG favors a protocol that comes from an impartial industry group, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force. He said reaching an understanding with the Big Four's group is a top agenda item.

"In the end, having different sender-authentication protocols and different initiatives does not help the end consumer," he said.

MAAWG plans to meet in April or May to discuss its progress and further goals.

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