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Office update clogs spam filters

Antispam software vendors are scrambling to find a fix to the fixes in a recently released service pack for Office XP and Office 2000, which some say causes havoc with spam filters.

A recent update for Microsoft's Office software is blocking several popular spam filters, and software makers are scrambling to find a fix to the fixes.

The problems have occurred since the release earlier this week of Service Pack 3 for Office XP and 2000, which are recent versions of Microsoft's widespread productivity package. The patches and big fixes in SP3 included a number of security fixes for Office's widely used e-mail client, Outlook.

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Shortly after SP3 was released, users started reporting problems to the makers of several popular products for filtering out junk e-mail. They said every time their spam filter tried to intercept a message, Outlook would pop up a warning message that another application was trying to access Outlook's address book.

The flaw appears to be related to the way some spam filters use the Outlook address book to distinguish known e-mail senders from junk spewers. SP3 restricts the ability of outside applications to access the address book, a common venue for worms and viruses to propagate.

While the warning messages don't stop either the spam filter or Outlook from working, they're an annoyance for anyone with an active mailbox, said Tricia Fahey, the vice president of marketing communications for spam filter company Cloudmark.

"If they were to click, 'yes,' 'yes,' 'yes' (in Outlook), it would work for them," Fahey said. "It's just a pain."

Cloudmark is collaborating with Microsoft to address the problem and expected to have a fix ready late Friday, Fahey said. "We've been working around the clock both internally and with Microsoft to resolve it," she said.

Sunbelt Software, whose iHateSpam filtering product was also afflicted by the glitch, released an update early on Friday to fix it.

Users of Norton AntiSpam, the product leading security software maker Symantec sells, experienced a different incompatibility with SP3. Phil Weiler, a Symantec spokesman, said the company had received reports of the Outlook toolbar freezing when the user tried to reclassify the AntiSpam rating of a message. (Outlook usually needs to be restarted after such a glitch.) Weiler said Symantec was investigating the problem and expected to have a patch ready next week.

A Microsoft representative said the address book restrictions SP3 imposes are similar to those in Office 2003, so most spam filter vendors and other software makers are already familiar with the technology.

Spam filtering has turned into one of the Internet's hottest growth industries, with dozens of companies competing with products that attempt to sift desirable mail from a tide of unsolicited junk.