ISPs reluctant to filter outbound spam

Messages just ignored, says survey

With spam volumes rising relentlessly a new survey claims to have detected an iota of worry among service providers. It seems many of them would love to do something about it but don't know what.

According to Commtouch, which commissioned the survey of comms companies and their users (reg required), the problem is that current technology is geared to stopping inbound spam. Outgoing spam filtering is still rudimentary and ignores the part of the problem generated by an ISP's own customers.

Spam sources within networks include legitimate email accounts that are being abused but more commonly nowadays hijacked legitimate accounts and compromised PC bots.

Unfortunately, service providers reported that their options for stopping outbound abuse were limited to using inbound antispam systems in reverse (one third used this approach), Port 25 blocking, or blocking of specific IP address ranges.

Another third used abuse management teams with many deploying in-house technology to deal with outbound spam without annoying users with false positives. Seventy percent agreed that their current system was not up to the problem.

Taken together, it is not surprising that outbound spam tends to be low down the order of priorities. Fifty percent though the systems added to the cost of doing business, 49 percent that it wasted the time of their staff, and 39 percent said it could lead to other companies blacklisting their IP addresses.

"Service providers are starting to realise that dissatisfied customers, blacklisting and other problems caused by outbound spam are issues they cannot ignore," said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, which conducted the survey by questioning 100 'knowledgeable individuals' at web hosting vendors and 266 end users.

"By eliminating spam originating from within their networks, service providers can reduce their costs while improving the service levels they offer their customers."

Commtouch reckons the solution is to buy a dedicated outbound spam management platform, which is just so happens to sell. This might be true, but the survey also hints that ISPs see this as just another layer of cost and complexity and would perhaps rather, in the final analysis, ignore the issue. Why? Spam heading out of the network is, by definition, mostly someone else's problem.

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John E. Dunn

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