Firm tests antispam software

Bright Light Technologies launches a beta test of Bright Mail, software that works with subscriber ISPs to stop spam from reaching its destination.

3 min read
In the cat-and-mouse fight of spammers vs. antispammers, one company is launching what it hopes will become a major weapon against bulk email.

Bright Light Technologies today is launching a beta test of Bright Mail, software that works with subscriber ISPs to stop spam from reaching its destination.

Almost all antispam software tries to stop bulk email from reaching its destination by killing it when it arrives at an individual's Internet service provider. But the challenge so far has been in identifying email as spam, rather than blocking it once it is recognized.

In the past, Internet service providers, including online leader America Online, would identify the spam sender's domain and filter out any email generated from it. For the most part, that solution no longer works, however, because spammers frequently change ISPs and have developed other technological means to disguise the email's point of departure.

That has been the problem facing ISPs, which want to please a largely spam-hating customer base: as fast as the ISPs can develop solutions, the spammers develop new weapons to get around them.

Bright Light, however, works a bit differently in that it actually aims to identify bulk email while it is being sent by setting up a sort of trip wire for actual spam.

Bright Light seeds the Net, using newsgroups and other means, with "hundreds of thousands" of email addresses that spammers then unknowingly vacuum up in their constant pursuit of fresh addresses to which they send spam, said Chris Madsen, a spokesman for the company.

Bright Light works on a network-wide basis: So far, four major ISPs have joined, including Concentric, AT&T, EarthLink, and USA.net.

The spam is actually sent to addresses within the individual ISPs. The access providers then forward the email to Bright Light, which in turn uses it to create a filter for that particular spam. Within five to ten minutes, using both people and software, Bright Light will establish so-called rules to identify the message and distributes them throughout the network.

The participating networks then use those rules to kill that piece of email if it arrives. It also can remove it from individuals' in-boxes, explained Madsen. Bulk emailings generally take anywhere from ten minutes to two days to be sent. Spammers often use slow connections that require making mailings in several pieces.

Madsen added that Bright Light is selling its software and service under the condition that individuals actually choose to have their email filtered. All email will remain unfiltered unless a user requests differently, Madsen said.

Ray Everett-Church, a technology consultant and attorney who has made a name for himself online as an antispammer, said he is impressed by Bright Light.

While the program is not a panacea, if implemented on a widespread basis it could help alleviate the burden that many users feel spam places on them, he said.

"I think they've got a really interesting approach and provided it can be deployed and scaled as they appear to be able to do, it can make a dent in the spam problem," Everett-Church said. "By implementing this in a large-scale fashion it has the potential to be as effective as some of the previous, smaller-scale ventures."

He added, however, that no software replaces the need for laws banning spam, such as one in Washington State, which this month resulted in the first monetary settlement to an individual.

"This is not going to be the end-all be-all of spam solutions," he said. "A good, robust technological solution is critical. I remain convinced that other techniques, including legal and legislative responses, are also necessary."