What can be done to fight spam

Part four of our nine-part series on managing spam.

About the book


For many companies and individuals, spam is an annoyance and undesired expense. This series excerpt from Privacy: What Developers and IT Professionals Should Know offers advice on what we can do to fight spam, how we can protecting legitimate e-mail and develop e-mail-friendly solutions.

Author J.C. CANNON, privacy strategist at Microsoft's Corporate Privacy Group, specializes in implementing application technologies that maximize consumer control over privacy, and enable developers to create privacy-aware applications. Cannon organized Microsoft's Privacy Response Center, an automated resource for tracking privacy issues throughout Microsoft. He works closely with Microsoft product groups and external developers to help them build privacy into applications. He also contributed the chapter on privacy to Michael Howard's Writing Secure Code. Cannon has spent nearly twenty-five years in software development.

Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Addison Wesley Professional.

The previous sections describe various aspects of spam and how it affects individuals, companies, and developers. Based on the enormous negative impact that spam has on our lives, we all bear a responsibility to do what we can to stop spam. The following sections look at ways in which each of us can help to fight spam.

Individuals

  • Use antispam software - ISPs often provide antispam tools as part of their service. Most e-mail applications come with antispam features. You can also obtain free tools from advocacy groups on the Internet. Turn on the antispam features of your applications. Use these features as part of your decision-making process for companies and products that you are researching. Client-side antispam software is discussed in the "Antispam Approaches" section.
  • Discourage spam - We all face situations where we could send on a chain e-mail, pass on e-mail-based ads, or choose a company that has a less-than-reputable reputation for delivering bulk e-mail. To quote Nancy Reagan, "Just say no!" It may seem cute, or harmless, or a way to make more money, but in the end it costs us all money in lost productivity and even lost jobs due to lower profit margins.
  • Validate attachments - Some spam can carry a piece of devious software that can cause spam and the software itself to be propagated to everyone on your contact list. Be certain of attachments before you open them, even if they come from someone you know. I even call my wife before opening an attachment from her, just in case!
  • Don't buy from spammers - Spammers who send advertisements only continue to do it because it's profitable. Whatever they are selling, you can get from someone else. Use Google.com to find alternative suppliers of anything you might find interesting in spam.
Individuals have the biggest opportunity to affect spam. It's individuals who are running the companies, marketing departments, and data centers that send out spam. Individuals are also the terminus for spam; meaning collectively we could use tools that can make spam a bad memory. The suggestions that I am providing here for individuals applies to consumers, employees, students, and other direct users of computers:

Companies

  • Use antispam software - Ensure that your e-mail servers use antispam software. Work with organizations such as Brightmail to deploy a spam-prevention solution for your company. Insist that your employees use antispam software on their desktops and at home. As an ISP, provide free antispam software to subscribers of your service. Both server-side and client-side antispam software is discussed in the "Antispam Approaches" section.
  • Have an anti-spam policy - Each company should have a policy that discourages sending spam as a marketing tool or doing business with distributors of spam. All of your customers and potential customers should have a way to opt out of e-mails from your company. These opt-out preferences should be honored by all of your employees and agents.
    • As an ISP, don't permit your members to use your resources to send spam. Use a challenge-response system to avoid the automatic creation of accounts for sending spam and other devious software.
  • Join the organized fight against spam - Join organizations to fight spam and to pass appropriate legislation for going after spammers. Be a visible advocate of spam prevention. It will show your employees that you are serious about your antispam stance and enhance your corporate brand with consumers.
Companies can be seen as bearing the greatest burden when it comes to spam. Spam causes them to lose money and productivity. Spam clogs their networks. But their advertising campaigns are also the originators of spam, either directly or indirectly. Here are some suggestions for corporations to nip spam in the bud:

Developers

  • Discourage bad behavior - Many developers, including myself, run across people who are a bit extreme in their views about what constitutes fun. We are in a unique position to be part of the community of people who can create many of the applications that are reported in the news. As part of this community, we should discourage the creation of spam tools or devious software and their proliferation.
  • Write privacy-aware applications - When creating applications that can send or collect e-mail, we should add features that permit adherence to a user's privacy preferences. When creating Web sites that send e-mail to users, provide a means for users to opt out of any e-mails that your Web site might send.
  • Expand antispam research - Several organizations are conducting antispam research. Typically, the work performed by researchers is rarely developed into products. It is important that product developers recognize the value in the research and incorporate it into their products. Work with research groups to see whether there is a new approach from which your product or service could benefit.

Next section: Antispam approaches

Index Page

Developers build applications, Web services, and line-of-business applications that could potentially send e-mails to the general public. Your software could also collect contact information from consumers that could later be used to send spam to them. You have a choice to protect people like yourself and your family who are recipients of spam by doing the following:
This was first published in April 2005

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