Spam prevention and education

One of the interesting topics under discussion here at SANOG was how to stop spam and spammers. Champika Wijayatunga from APNIC did an excellent presentation on this and afterwards we had a fruitful discussion on spam.

According to statistics that Champika presented, 75% of all email traffic is spam and it is growing by a disturbing 400% every year. I doubt legitimate email is also growing at the same rate so the first figure will likely keep on increasing.

For Pakistan, and South Asia as well, the issue is 2-pronged. Due to lack of policies and spam-related laws, spammers find it a haven to launch their wretched campaigns. Compare this to places such as Australia who have made spam illegal. Since a large majority of Internet users are unaware of good practices, on top of becoming victim to incoming spam, they act as proxies for outgoing spam without even knowing it. I regularly have to listen to infuriated customers who simply can’t understand why their email is blocked or why they should change the way they use the Internet.

Solution to the former lies with Internet service providers and policy makers. Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of collaboration among these which makes it impossible to get meaningful laws through. It will take a very strong push to get everyone together and agree on effective policies.

Though at Dancom, we take a number of steps to block spammers and customers with servers being used for spamming, the situation becomes hopeless when the customer threatens to switch to a different service provider. Since the others allow these types of activities, spammers (or ignorant customers) have no problem switching and carrying on as they were.

An effective solution is one used in Japan and what Maemura san from France Telecom talked about. All service providers block outgoing mail for home users and force it to go through their own servers which implement strict spam-combating rules. When I was there, this wasn’t very apparent or much of a problem since most of my bandwidth usage was through corporate connections, but it is a good idea.

As for filtering, grey-listing is (at least currently) the most effective way of dealing with spam. Tariq Mustafa from Supernet talked about this in today’s general meeting. Both Supernet and APNIC have implemented grey-listing with very hopeful results.

I’m starting work on this and should have a distributed email system in place soon that uses grey-listing, some white-listing, SPF checking as well as Bayesian filtering to wipe out spam. The last two are already working very effectively for me.

Next comes education of end-users which is probably in the worst state and the toughest task. Though everyone complains about spam, hardly anyone is willing or interested in doing something about it themselves. Simply switching from Outlook/Outlook Express to Thunderbird will greatly cut down on spam you have to go through, yet it is taboo to even consider it. Same goes for ditching Internet Explorer, though the situation is slightly better when it comes to browsers.

People still keep forwarding hoaxes and jokes etc. Though the extra bandwidth usage for these is negligible these days when compared to spam, these expose the email addresses of everyone the message has been sent to and can be easily harvested by spammers. Then there are a number of users who actually like spam without realizing how big a menace it is.

I’ll try to get in touch with any other ISPs I can around the country and maybe we can come up with some solid policies, maybe even get a law passed. Until then, the battle continues and the good guys seem to be losing.

One thought on “Spam prevention and education

  1. On the other side of blocking outgoing mail from home users, many servers refuse to accept mail from “dynamic” IP addresses. That’s why, for my own domain, I send through a forwarding service.

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