Microsoft is porting its anti-spam technology to the latest version of its Exchange messaging platform.
Early versions of Microsoft's SmartScreen spam-filtering technology have already been introduced in Outlook 2003, MSN 8 and Hotmail. The technology will be available as an Exchange Server 2003 add-on, called Microsoft Exchange Intelligent Message Filter, in the first half of next year.
The anti-spam product announcement was made yesterday by Bill Gates during his Comdex Fall keynote. The Microsoft chairman spoke of the technology as a means to "shift the tide" in the war against spam.
Microsoft defines its SmartScreen technology as a "patented technology based on a machine-learning approach, where decisions regarding whether email would be considered spam are made by email customers themselves and then incorporated into a feedback loop to train the filter to know what to look for".
"Hundreds of thousands of Hotmail subscribers have volunteered to classify millions of email messages as legitimate or as spam", it adds.
So all that spam you received in your Hotmail account wasn't a pointless waste of time, after all.
Extend, embrace and complement
Microsoft says there is no single answer to the spam problem but it is committed to a "broad spectrum of approaches to help put spammers out of business". It is positioning its SmartScreen spam filtering technology as complementary to other filtering technologies.
Sophos, which recently entered into the anti-spam market with the acquisition of specialist vendor ActiveState, welcomed Microsoft’s entry into the anti-spam market while raising questions about aspects of the software giant’s approach.
According to Graham Cluley, Sophos's senior technology consultant, Microsoft is talking about monthly updates to its anti-spam definitions. He asks if this is frequent enough to deal with rapidly-changing spamming techniques and suggests that Redmond may have to introduce more frequent updates.
Microsoft proposes to block spam when it reaches an Exchange Server. But many companies are more interested in filtering out spam before it gets that far into their network, Cluley says. Also he questions how easy it might be for sysadmins to adapt Microsoft’s technology to the needs of individual organisations.
Support for safe and block sender lists, domain spoofing and a range of other spam-blocking and filtering techniques are built into the core Exchange 2003 product. SmartScreen extends this with a form of heuristic (automatic) spam detection.
On a broader scale, Microsoft will take a "coordinated approach that includes advanced technology, industry self-regulation, consumer education, effective legislation and targeted enforcement against illegal spammers to solve the spam problem".
Microsoft is of course working with America Online, Yahoo! and EarthLink to develop a so-called "Trusted Sender" programme.
The project, set up in April this year, will allow "legitimate senders of emails to distinguish themselves from spammers," according to Harry Katz, a Microsoft program manager, as quoted in the Washington Post. The aim of the Trusted Sender schemes is to adapt email systems so that they recognise "good unsolicited bulk email" from fraudulent spam and discard only the latter.
Now Microsoft defines spam as "unsolicited bulk or unsolicited commercial e-mail". Maybe this is only the view of Redmond's Anti-Spam Technology and Strategy group - Microsoft's marketing gurus may have a different view - but it's a definition against which we can measure Microsoft's future anti-spam policy pronouncements. ®
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