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Developing nations losing spam battle, report says

Countries with fewer resources are finding themselves overwhelmed as junk mail senders take shelter there, a new OECD report says.

Developing countries are being overwhelmed with spam--a situation that threatens to widen the global digital divide, according to a new report.

Countries like Malaysia, Nepal and Nigeria lack the bandwidth, technical know-how and financial resources to effectively combat junk e-mail, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in the report, released this week (Click here for PDF).

As a result, Web users in those nations endure more outages and less reliable overall service than people in more developed countries, the Paris-based international economic think tank said.

"Spam is a much more serious issue in developing countries...as it is a heavy drain on resources that are scarcer and costlier in developing countries than elsewhere," states the report, which was written by Suresh Ramasubramanian, an OECD advisor and postmaster for Outblaze.com.

In addition, more spammers are setting up shop in less-developed countries as authorities and Internet service providers in the United States and Europe crack down on them. As ISPs in developing nations harbor more spammers, those providers increasingly land on international "block lists." That jams up e-mail services for their customers--spammers and regular Web users alike.

"Whatever the rationale behind large-scale blocking, it is a fact of life that is all too familiar to most ISPs in developing economies," the report noted.

In countries with a single ISP providing e-mail services, landing on a block list can cut the entire country off from e-mail access. That's just what happened in Costa Rica in a few years ago, when antispam campaign group Spamhaus blocked e-mail from the country for two whole days.

Individuals and businesses in developing countries, as elsewhere, often bear the worst of the spam burden. In addition, many Web users in those places rely on dial-up and pay-per-minute services at cybercafes, making junk e-mail all the more frustrating, the report said.

"All this effort and expense is completely wasted when the user finds that the downloaded e-mails are to a large extent random spam or viruses," the report states.

The OECD report also outlined a number of recommendations to improve the spam situation in developing nations. It urges ISPs in those countries to invest in spam-filter technology or in third-party filtering, and to adopt strong antispam policies.

The group also recommended that countries set up computer emergency response teams to coordinate responses to major incidents and vulnerabilities. It also calls on ISPs around the globe to assist each other in the fight against spam.

This week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced it is linking up with counterparts abroad to combat zombie networks used by spammers. The different agencies plan to put pressure on ISPs to spot offending members and to cut those computers off their networks.