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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Using the net to catch junk mail
waste paper, Eyewire
Now there could be a better way to junk unwanted mail
A Napster-like network might be able to stem the tide of spam mail messages flooding the internet.

By sharing information about unwanted commercial e-mails among a network of collaborating computers, two US software developers are hoping to swiftly spot and spread the word about the junk messages.

Tests of the system have shown that it can successfully spot and stop almost all unwanted e-mails, yet doesn't catch legitimate messages.

Next month the two software developers behind the technology are planning to launch a company that will sell the spam-stopping idea as a service to net providers.

Peer pressure

If you have an e-mail account there's a good chance that you regularly get messages you never asked for, offering get-rich-quick schemes, dubious herbal remedies and even access to porn sites.

Many people use the filtering systems in their e-mail software to catch these messages.

However, these filters often catch many legitimate e-mail messages and can cause as much frustration as they are supposed to cure.

Some net service providers carry out basic filtering on behalf of their customers and stop mail messages reaching people if they are sent from net domains run by junk e-mail marketers.

Many net service providers also gather and share information about notorious spammers in an attempt to stop them setting up new mailing operations only moments after the last one was shut down.

Now New Scientist reports that developers Vipul Ved Prakash and Napster creator Jordan Ritter are creating the Folsom anti-spam tool that tries to stymie junk mail by using a network of collaborating computers.

Napster logo
One of Napster's developers is now tackling spam
The system works by sharing among Folsom computers 20-character signatures that uniquely identify the junk messages received by any member of the network.

The rules that generate the identifying signatures take into account the whole message rather than just keywords or the net addresses of known spammers.

The signatures are automatically shared between all Folsom members. This ensures that when a known spam message is received elsewhere it is spotted and stopped.

The Napster music sharing system worked in a similar fashion with members swapping music on their computers with others on the network.

New Scientist reports that tests of the Folsom network on e-mail streams containing up to 60% of junk mail reduced the unsolicited messages to almost zero. The software also managed to do a good job of discriminating between junk and genuine e-mail.

Also built in to the Folsom system are tools that should prevent spam senders circumventing the system by making small changes to messages.

A company called Cloudmark will soon start selling the anti-spam system to companies and net service providers.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Why one spam could cost $50
14 Feb 02 | Business
Cutting spam out of your mobile diet
28 Mar 02 | Business
'Dutch Napster' wins reprieve
05 Apr 02 | Business
Bertelsmann 'steps up' Napster bid
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