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Symantec fights auto-responder menace

No tsunamis swamping spoofed addys

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Virus notification alerts will hopefully become less of a nuisance after modifications to Symantec's mail server security products announced this week.

Mass mailing viruses frequently spoof the sender's address in infected emails sent out from pox-ridden PCs. This forged email address is often randomly plucked off the infected computer by a virus.

Many gateway applications that scan email attachments for viral content email auto-responds when a virus is found. If the 'Sender' name has been forged, the auto-reply will be sent to an innocent party, causing unnecessary confusion and stress. A false accusation may even harm an organisation's relationship with clients and partners. Bounced messages from auto-responders are feeding a flood of useless and malicious messages that threatens to swamp legitimate emails for many users, include many whose Linux or Apple Mac machine are immune to Windows malware.

Symantec has turned off this auto-responder feature by default for the last two years but systems admins insist on turning it back on, according to Chris Miller, a Symantec mail security product manager. In response the company has come up with a more sophisticated approach, called Mass Mailer Cleanup, with the latest version of its gateway product Symantec Mail Security for SMTP 4.0. Miller explained this technology was able to differentiate between mass mailers and regular viruses, only sending notifications for the latter. Mass Mailer Cleanup also deletes the entire content of messages generated by mass mailer viruses so that internal users receive fewer useless messages. The technology will feature in other Symantec AV product for Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, he added.

Symantec hopes the AV industry as a whole will modify its approach to auto-responder 'virus-generated spam', which has historically been treated as something of a marketing tool.

In years past notifying people they may have sent a virus performed a useful function that has been eroded by the mass-mailer auto-responder problem. Symantec move to minimise this problem is welcome even if is overdue, we could have really done with those auto-responder messages from Symantec, NAI and Sophos gateways during the MyDoom epidemic, for example. ®

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