03:41 PM

Microsoft Offers ISPs Spam-Fighting Tools

Microsoft launches a Web site and an analytical service to help Internet service providers in their spam-reduction efforts.

Microsoft Corp. on Thursday launched a website and an analytical service to help Internet service providers in their spam-reduction efforts.

The latest anti-spam offerings are tied to Microsoft's web-mail service Hotmail, which is offered through the Redmond, Wash., software maker's MSN entertainment portal.

Microsoft introduced a preview release of its new ISP service, called Smart Network Data Services, which provides a variety of characteristics of e-mail traffic sent to MSN Hotmail subscribers, which number 200 million active users worldwide.

ISPs can find out the volume of e-mail being sent from their Internet protocol space, how the e-mail is affected by Hotmail spam filtering and the percentage of e-mail marked as spam by Hotmail and its subscribers. By providing this information, ISPs can attack problems by cleaning compromised servers, increasing security measures for the host or network, or working with e-mail senders to determine if their spammers or legitimate marketers, Microsoft said.

Charlotte Dunlap, analyst for IT researcher Current Analysis, said ISPs are under increasing pressure to help combat junk e-mail by identifying spammers. Microsoft's service is meant to help them become more proactive.

"ISPs have been hesitant (in looking for spammers) out of fear of nixing any of their legitimate customers," Dunlap said. "But the spam problem is increasing and not getting any better."

The problem has grown enough to attract the attention of governments. Earlier this week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, in conjunction with government agencies in more than 20 countries, launched an international campaign to educate ISPs about computers that have been hijacked by virus writers in order to send spam. Such computers, which are used without the owners' knowledge, are called "zombies."

The new Microsoft site called MSN Postmaster provides information on issues and tools related to fighting junk e-mail sent to MSN Hotmail members. The site is directed at senders of bulk e-mails, ISPs, e-mail service providers, postmasters and domain administrators.

MSN Postmaster also includes required guidelines for sending e-mail to MSN members, and troubleshooting assistance for delivery issues.

"MSN Postmaster and Smart Data Network Services represent a move by Microsoft toward broader, more-comprehensive and transparent information-sharing with ISPs and e-mail senders to help protect e-mail and ensure that it continues to be an essential and valuable communications tool," Kevin Doerr, product unit manager for MSN Hotmail, said in a statement.

In January, Microsoft implemented in Hotmail its proposed e-mail sender authentication protocol called Sender ID, which is designed to fight domain spoofing and phishing. Both are used in schemes to direct consumers to websites where they are asked for personal information, such as bank account or credit-card numbers, or where malicious code is uploaded into their computers.

In the "coming months," Microsoft plans to extend its Sender ID implementation in a new safety bar in the Hotmail user interface. The bar will warn subscribers of potential threats from e-mails by displaying phrases such as, "The sender of this message could not be verified by Sender ID."

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