This is an executive email from billg, regarding Microsoft's efforts to stop the cockroach
of the internet [Source].
If God would choose between various mailers, I hope he/she would choose Outlook 2003,
which will include an efficient spam filter (I hope).
I categorized this to Personal and Other, since it nags me and others.
Towards a spam free future
Email is such an integral part of business and everyday life today that we tend
to forget how recently it became popular. The first email program was developed in
the early 1970s, but for two decades the technology was hardly used except by computer
scientists, researchers and hobbyists.
Not until the mid-1990s, when the growing popularity of personal computers converged
with easy access to the Internet, did email become truly pervasive as a way to communicate
at work, with family and with friends. Today, email is as easy to use as the telephone,
and just as vital for keeping people in touch, and for improving business productivity.
Yet email's popularity has produced one very troubling side effect: spam. Unsolicited
commercial email is a spreading plague that feeds off the unique power of the Internet
to connect hundreds of millions of computer users around the world, at virtually no
cost. Generally unwanted and often pornographic or with fraudulent intent spam is
a nuisance and a distraction. Like almost everyone, I receive a lot of spam every
day, much of it offering to help me get out of debt or get rich quick. It's ridiculous.
What's more, spam is a drain on productivity, an increasingly costly waste of
time and resources for Internet service providers and for businesses large and small.
It clogs corporate networks, and is sometimes a vehicle for viruses that can cause
Spammers often prey on less sophisticated email users, including children, which
can threaten their privacy and personal security. And as everyone struggles to sift
spam out of their inboxes, valid messages are sometimes overlooked or deleted, which
makes email less reliable as a channel for communication and legitimate e-commerce.
Spam is so significant a problem that it threatens to undo much of the good that email
At Microsoft, as part of our drive to create a more trustworthy computing environment,
we are significantly stepping up our efforts to fight spam and its pollution of the
email ecosystem. Although there is no easy fix, we believe that spam can and must
be dramatically reduced. We're working toward this goal on many fronts, through technological
innovation and in partnership with other leaders in industry and government.
Creating New Anti-Spam Technologies and Strategies
Because spam affects consumer and business users of many Microsoft products and
services, we have been working for several years on spam filters, and on tools that
enable people to block unwelcome senders and designate others as safe. These tools
have become available in recent versions of products such as MSN, Hotmail, Exchange
Recognizing the increasing urgency of the issue, we recently created a new Anti-Spam
Technology and Strategy Group that brings together specialists from across the company
and integrates all of our anti-spam strategy and R&D efforts.
We are building on advanced work at Microsoft Research in fields such as machine
learning the design of systems that learn from data and grow smarter over time. This
kind of technology is vital to the fight against spam because every defensive action
causes spammers to change their attack. Technology, to be effective, must continuously
adapt, without requiring a team of people to examine messages one by one. With machine
learning, a "smart" spam filter can automatically adjust to spammers' shifting tactics.
A smart filter can also be customized to suit the preferences of an individual
user. This is important because, although a lot of spam is pure junk, not all of it
is clearly distinguishable based solely on broad, global criteria. Deciding precisely
where to draw the line must ultimately be up to the individual. However, a smart filter
can learn from a user's personal preferences to create a unique, anti-spam immune
system that is much harder for spammers to work around.
Already, filters on the servers at MSN and Hotmail block more than 2.4 billion
messages a day, before they ever reach our customers' inboxes. And to help deal with
mail that survives this first hurdle, MSN 8 software includes a smart filter that
becomes more effective over time as it learns the characteristics of mail that an
individual customer regards as spam. This month, we updated MSN 8 with further improvements
in its spam technologies, giving customers an option to block offensive images in
email, and adding the ability to filter mail in languages besides English. We will
offer more technology advances in a new release of MSN software later this year.
Meanwhile, we are working to create new anti-spam technologies that are even more
precise, easier to use, and adaptable. And we are working to integrate them into more
of our products, particularly Outlook and Exchange.
To help, we have assembled a massive and still growing database of spam, collected
from volunteers among our millions of MSN and Hotmail subscribers. This database will
prove invaluable later this year when we release Outlook 2003, which will include
a new, smart filter that will access the database to recognize and block spam more
effectively. The filter in Outlook 2003 also will be updated frequently and easily,
as with Windows Update today.
Exchange 2003 includes a host of anti-spam features, including an Application
Programming Interface that enables third-party providers of spam filters to easily
supply solutions for Exchange customers. We plan to add our own smart filter and continue
building more anti-spam capabilities into the Exchange messaging infrastructure. Our
goal is to do everything we can to secure email systems with servers that monitor
and control the points of entry.
As we develop new technologies, stemming the tide of spam also requires a multi-faceted
approach that includes industry self-regulation, effective and appropriate legislation,
and targeted enforcement against the most egregious spammers. It also calls for cooperation
among the major players in the email ecosystem. In April, we joined with AOL and Yahoo!
in announcing a wide-ranging set of initiatives to fight spam together. Since then,
Earthlink and others have joined the effort, which involves promoting business guidelines,
best practices and technical standards that can help curb spam sent or received via
any online service or computing platform.
Stopping Spam At the Source
Every major provider of email services has rules against spamming. Microsoft puts
significant resources into investigating consumer complaints about spam that may have
originated from accounts on MSN or Hotmail. We are firm in shutting down those who
violate our anti-spam account policies.
There are other challenges. For example, spammers set up many different email
accounts to avoid detection, and, once detected, they move to other services. To put
an end to this shell game, we are taking steps to prevent spammers from creating fraudulent
email accounts in bulk. We also are working with other service providers to share
information so that we can keep tabs on roving spammers and shut them down more effectively.
Government policymakers also have a role to play. We support U.S. federal legislation
that would strengthen the ability of service providers to shut down spammers by suing
them on behalf of customers. And we believe that the use of automated searches to
harvest addresses published on the Web and in Internet newsgroups should be banned,
making it much more costly and difficult for spammers to assemble mailing lists.
Bringing Spammers into the Sunshine
Government and industry working together also can put an end to spammers' deceptive
practices. Spammers go to great lengths to conceal or "spoof" their identities. They
relay their mail through multiple servers to hide its origins. They open multiple
accounts and change to new ones frequently to avoid drawing the attention of service
providers, and to improve the chances of their mail passing through spam filters.
They lure unsuspecting readers by faking sender addresses ones that appear to be someone
inside the recipient's company, for example.
Microsoft is working with others in the industry to identify and restrict mail
that conceals its source. For example, we are working toward a system to verify sender
addresses, much as recipients' addresses are verified today. The Internet addresses
for all incoming mail servers are published as part of the Domain Name System, the
Internet's distributed directory. That's how mail gets to the right destination. If
domain administrators could also publish the addresses of their outgoing mail servers,
then the receipt of a suspected forgery could trigger a relatively simple, automated
verification process. Incoming servers would then be able to confirm whether senders
are who they say they are.
To help fight fraudulent or otherwise illegal spam, we are cooperating with other
service providers to create better mechanisms for preserving electronic evidence of
spammers' activities. And we are coordinating civil lawsuits and other enforcement
actions for greatest impact. On June 16, Microsoft filed 15 lawsuits in the United
States and the United Kingdom against companies and individuals alleged to be responsible
for billions of spam messages sent in violation of state and federal laws.
These efforts would be helped and consumers would benefit from legislation that
would include clearer prohibitions against using misleading sender addresses and other
false header information.
Part of the challenge in curbing spam lies in accurately identifying legitimate
commercial email. What would help are guidelines defining, for example, whether and
when an email is legitimate based on a previous business relationship between the
sender and recipient. By drawing a clear line between spam and legitimate mail, guidelines
would enable spam filters to work more precisely, and make it easier for honest businesses
to stay on the right side of the line.
Developing such guidelines is the focus of talks involving Microsoft and other
technology leaders, responsible marketers and consumer groups. We favor the idea of
setting up independent email trust authorities to establish and maintain commercial
email guidelines, certify senders who follow the guidelines, and resolve customer
disputes. Similar authorities already help in protecting people's privacy online,
with organizations such as TRUSTe and BBBOnline providing certification for Web sites
and companies that follow guidelines on the use of customers' data.
Self-regulation needs to be supported by strong federal legislation that empowers
consumers without threatening the vitality of legitimate e-commerce. Our proposal
is to create a regulatory "safe harbor" status for senders who comply with guidelines.
The guidelines would be subject to approval by the Federal Trade Commission. Compliance
would be confirmed by a self-regulatory body. Senders who do not comply would have
to insert an "ADV:" label, for advertisement, in the subject line of all unsolicited
Computer users could then customize their spam filters to either accept "ADV:"-labeled
mail or automatically delete it. Enabling consumers to regain control of their inboxes
in this way would dramatically reduce the volume of spam by creating strong incentives
for businesses to make sure their communications are consistent with best-practices
guidelines developed by industry itself.
Changing the Landscape, Soon
These and other efforts across many fronts should lead to a world where we are
less troubled by spam. As less of it reaches recipients and violators face
stiffer sanctions for illegal activities the financial incentives for spammers will
decrease, and spamming will lose much of its appeal.
At Microsoft, we're strongly committed to the goal of ending today's spam epidemic.