Canadian ISPs take spam fight into their own hands

Internet service providers (ISPs) can do more to fight spam, say a national association of ISPs and one of its largest members, and they hope to convene a meeting soon to put their ideas into action.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers

(CAIP) and AOL Canada Inc. recently sent a letter to its members, asking them to participate in an effort to crack down on spam sent from Canadian mail servers. Just a couple of days after the letter went out Tom Copeland, chair of CAIP, said more than 20 ISPs had already responded positively.

Many ISPs already work hard to stop incoming spam from reaching their subscribers. But less effort goes into blocking spammers from using some ISPs’ systems to send the unwanted e-mail. “”We’ve seen an extraordinary spike in certain domains in terms of the volume of spam that we’re seeing coming in,”” said Craig Wallace, president and chief executive of AOL Canada. “”I think all ISPs need to be extremely careful in terms of who they’re extending trust relationships to.””

Copeland said CAIP hopes to set up a meeting of interested ISPs by the end of June to discuss ways of cracking down on spammers at the source. Part of the solution, he said, will be improved communication among ISPs so that when one ISP notices a flood of spam coming from another’s domain, it can make immediate contact with technical staff who can tackle the problem right away.

“”For many of us, the only contacts we have with these other networks are the same help desks that their clients call into,”” Copeland said.

The letter to CAIP members calls for an Anti-Spam Code of Practice and response protocols that all Canadians ISPs will be willing to adopt.

The letter also says the initiative is consistent with the work of the Spam Task Force announced by Industry Minister Lucienne Robillard earlier this month, and might provide the task force with working data that could benefit Canadian ISPs and consumers.

Bernard Courtois, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and a member of the federal task force, applauded the CAIP initiative. “”The technology community has to get together,”” he said.

Mark Jeftovic, co-founder of Toronto-based domain registrar easyDNS Technologies Inc., said co-operation such as CAIP proposes is desirable. “”If the ISPs can work together to get co-ordinated on this issue, then they can work together to get co-ordinated on a lot of other issues.”” For instance, he said, ISPs might also work together to fight virus propagation.

Jeftovic noted that a group of Canadian domain registrars have already formed an informal group to share information about spammers, making it impossible for a known spammer to move from one participating registrar to another.

Jim Carroll, a Toronto-based consultant and author of Surviving the Information Age, The Canadian Internet Handbook and other books, said the spam problem is huge and “”God bless anybody who decides to deal with it.”” But he said much of the spam Canadians receive comes from outside the country and Canadian ISPs can do little to stop this at the source.

Jeftovic said some major spammers are Canadian, though they may relay their mail through offshore servers. He said Canada’s contribution to the spam problem is proportional to the country’s Internet usage. Cracking down on spam sent from within Canada could simply force spammers to move elsewhere, he noted, but it would be a good first step.

An initiative called Sender Policy Framework (SPF), which would make it harder for spammers to fake sending addresses on their mail, is an important tool ISPs can use against spam, Jeftovic added. AOL has already endorsed SPF, and Jeftovic said he is optimistic it will catch on with Canadian ISPs.

But Jeftovic also said tougher law enforcement is essential to fighting spam, pointing to the case of a New York man recently sent to prison for spam offences. No Canadian has yet been brought to court for spamming. “”I really hope that this country in all aspects gets going on this problem,”” Jeftovic said.



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