UK hosts spam summit

UK hosts spam summit

Billed as the "first international meeting of spam enforcers," telecommunications experts from more than 20 countries are meeting in London today to work up a joint plan of action for tackling junk mail.

Representatives from the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), speaking at the first international conference of email regulators, said law enforcement agencies must join forces to target the most prolific international spammers.

Three years ago only one in ten messages were spam - now bulk unsolicited e-mail accounts for up to 60 per cent and is often linked to fraudulent, deceptive or pornographic activities, according to anti-spam vendor Brightmail.

Furthermore, an estimated 80 per cent of spam hitting the in-box of UK net users originates from overseas, primarily from the US, China and Korea, underlining the importance of cross-border enforcement.

"We are all united by a common goal - to stop deceptive and fraudulent spam from flooding our email boxes, threatening our data security, and undermining e-mail’s effectiveness as a tool for commerce and communication," Deborah Majoras, the FTC chairwoman, said.

"Spammers hide behind the cloak of anonymity provided by the latest technology, and the path from a spammer to a consumer's inbox typically crosses one border, if not several.

"It's our biggest problem tracing the origin of spam, so providing information between countries on how to track them [spammers] down is imperative. In the cyber-speedy world of spam, it is essential that we move quickly to catch them."

The OFT is keen to build on its successes to date in co-operating with its peers overseas.

These include a joint investigation between the OFT and the US Federal Trade Commission into a UK-based firm (called TLD Networks), which spammed US consumers with a patriotic message in an attempt to con them into buying fake domain names.

In another case, the OFT teamed up with the Italian competition authority over a case linked spam with modem hijacking. Italian consumers were targeted by junk mail sent by a UK company, directing recipients to a "cookery" website. This site contained malicious code. If this code was activated, a recipient's modem connections were redirected to a premium rate line. The company withdrew the website and closed its office’s following the OFT's intervention.

John Vickers, the OFT chairman, said "We are all familiar with the annoyance, invasion of privacy and cost that spam brings, but that is just part of the problem - spam is threatening the enormous potential for good that e-commerce, and the web generally, has opened up.

According to Mr Vickers, one solution would be for Internet Service Suppliers to charge for sending unwanted marketing emails, and another for workplaces to install spam filters.

Richard Thomas, the UK's information commissioner, called for increased powers to crack down on spammers.

"My powers are still not strong enough," he said. "I'm seeking the power to get information from third parties who know what is going on. There is currently no obligation for Internet Service Providers to provide information.”

"The second is to ensure an injunction can be obtained rapidly when something comes to light - a fast-track solution so that, when we have got the evidence, we can go to court straight away."

Sources: Brightmail, The Guardian, The Register

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