Software

Gates issues 'progress report' on spam

In an "executive e-mail," the Microsoft founder outlines strategies and argues against an e-mail "postal rate."

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By Stefanie Olsen
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

Microsoft fans got an update from Bill Gates on Monday about the company's antispam efforts.

In an "executive e-mail" to international subscribers, Gates several steps the software maker is taking to thwart spam, which by some accounts now eclipses legitimate e-mail 3-to-1. Those strategies include fostering technology standards to identify e-mail forgery, to define industry best practices, and helping law enforcement agencies nab spammers.

"It's still a major problem—an invasion of privacy, a costly drain on time and resources and, as a carrier of worms and viruses, a significant threat to computer security," Gates wrote in a message labeled "progress report."

He also touted Microsoft's success with its antispam innovation to date. Microsoft's Hotmail, for example, blocks about 95 percent of incoming junk e-mail, or an average of 3 billion messages per day, Gates said. He attributed that success to Microsoft's proprietary technology, SmartScreen, which filters junk mail for MSN 8, MSN Premium, Hotmail and Outlook 2003.

Microsoft recently made SmartScreen available to Exchange Server 2003 users, via a download of the Exchange Intelligent Message Filter from www.microsoft.com/exchange. He said in the coming year, Microsoft will update SmartScreen for network administrators so that they can better detect infected desktop machines used to send spam inside their own networks.

Gates discussed the potential of third-party accreditation programs as a means to offset spam. Accreditation, or bonded sender programs, let companies put up a bond to ensure that their mail is received in good faith. If they breach best practices, their bond is forfeited. Microsoft recently experimented with Ironport's bonded sender program, with success, Gates said. But he added that such services, in contrast to some thinking, are not a viable back door to charging a postal rate for e-mail.

"We firmly believe that monetary charges would be inappropriate and contrary to the fundamental purpose of the Internet as an extremely efficient and inexpensive medium for communications," Gates wrote. "The goal instead is to thwart spammers' misuse of the Internet, so that everyone else can continue to enjoy its enormous benefits."

Gates and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer send periodic e-mail to subscribers who sign up at the company's Web site. They typically highlight Microsoft's perspective on various technology issues. Previous e-mails have covered security problems and Microsoft's server strategy.

Gates ended on a positive note: "As we work to help isolate and block spammers, we're also helping to build an infrastructure that will enhance the reliability, efficiency and safety of e-mail, of the Internet, and of computing in general."

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