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Commentary: No easy solution for spam

Gartner says the answer to the spam problem transcends international borders and will take action by government, businesses and Internet service providers.

By Joyce Graff, Gartner Analyst

The problem of spam--unwanted e-mail--transcends international borders, the power of governments and the reach of enterprises. It will take action by government, businesses and Internet service providers to solve it.

The ability of commercial spammers to evade detection by relying on insecure servers in Asia and elsewhere shows how pervasive and how difficult to stop spam has become. Spam is now an international problem, and a body of international law--comparable to the network of agreements that govern the world's postal authorities--will eventually be needed to counter the tide of spam.

See news story:
Companies taking desperate steps against spam
That day is far away, however, and until it comes, enterprises will have to rely on institutional and technological solutions to help resist the tide of spam. Fortunately, technological solutions already exist that can at least partially deal with the problem. Getting good anti-spam software enabled on the Internet will certainly help smaller companies with limited IT resources, which at present have to fight spam on their own.

The first line of defense against spam must certainly be the Internet service providers (ISPs). Many leading ISPs already offer spam-blocking services to their individual customers, and they should be prepared to offer similar high-quality services to their enterprise customers. Most enterprises will willingly pay an additional price for such services because they deliver a clear return on investment by reducing the time and resources spent on dealing with spam.

Enterprises can also deploy a wide range of technologies to protect their own networks from the rising tide of spam. Of the anti-spam technologies on the market today, the Brightmail approach--which parallels the techniques used by an antivirus laboratory--is the most effective. Brightmail does the following:

• It maintains sensors on the Internet to watch for spam attacks.

• It determines when spam is coming and where it is coming from.

• It takes defensive action.

• It creates specific rules to counter spammers' tactics.

Ultimately, though, the only approach that truly defeats unwanted commercial e-mail will be one that combines all of these elements:

• International regulatory action.

• Anti-spam vigilance by ISPs.

• Intense, proactive anti-spam action by enterprises.

Until that day comes, enterprise e-mail recipients can expect to continue to see their in-boxes filled with fraudulent, objectionable and otherwise unwanted e-mail.

(For a related commentary on spam and e-mail marketing, see

Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.