Task force takes on enterprise spam

A Canadian open-source company has formed a coalition of content filtering experts to tackle the challenge of unsolicited e-mail in the enterprise.

ActiveState Corp. said the Anti-Spam Task Force, which will include the creators

of tools like PopFile, SpamBayes and iFile, will develop next-generation methods for analyzing content to distinguish between e-mail messages. The group will also attempt to work more closely with companies in the messaging industry to implement standards and e-mail policies. ActiveState, based in Vancouver, makes a product called PureMessage, as well as Komodo, an IDE for open-source languages.

Jesse Dougherty, ActiveState’s director of development and the Anti-Spam Task Force’s leader, said the group will release white papers outlining current challenges and evolving techniques for analyzing spam. It will also advise other bodies like the Internet Research Task Force Group on issues that concern the enterprise, a sector Dougherty said was under-represented.

While definitions for “”spam”” vary, Dougherty said in the enterprise it is the result of a systems administrator being unable to implement an acceptable use policy and publish it. Organizations need to clearly lay these polices out in order to be legally comfortable, he said. While consumer e-mail liability can fall on the ISP, the enterprise owns the messages its employees receive.

“”None of the things that get through can be offensive, and this is the biggest driver right now for large enterprises,”” he said. “”A person downloading a message containing pornography, offensive language or a potential scam does have a case against the company, if they’re offended or taken advantage of by that e-mail.””

Many of the legal ramifications around spam are still being resolved. In Canada, a group called the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE) is lobbying government to toughen the penalties.

Neil Schwartzman, CAUCE Canada’s chair, said co-operation among vendors is crucial, but the technical issues are only one part of the equation.

“”Canada will very soon probably be the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have anti-spam legislation,”” he said. “”While some of the products on the market are extremely good, and a combination of the products can be an effective partial solution, I think that it continues to behoove the federal government to develop legal approaches to the spam problem.””

Jason Rennie, a researcher with MIT’s artificial intelligence lab and creator of iFile, is also working on the Anti-Spam Task Force. Rennie said that anti-spam products often fail because spammers keep changing their tactics. A few years ago, spam could be immediately identified by certain words — “”Buy this,”” or “”Click here”” — but now spammers are getting much more tricky, Rennie said. Le

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