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Seven Steps to Software Security

Some of the world's largest ISPs and email providers are joining forces to fight spam by using existing technology and best practice rather than just looking for future technical solutions. Founder members include AOL, BT, Comcast, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo!.

They have released a statement of intent outlining best practice. The organisation, called the Anti-Spam Technical Alliance (ASTA), will update this document as necessary.

It says: "We fully recognise that this document does not provide all solutions to the spam problem... However, we feel that our recommendations, if implemented on a large scale, can be successful in improving email messaging and Internet communications."

The first suggestion is that all providers do their best to remove open relays from their systems. Open relay machines, aka "zombies", are controlled remotely by spammers and used for distributing spam.

It also calls on mailbox providers to do a better job of telling users what they can do to combat spam.

The group is looking at ways to provide secure email identity. It notes that where once spams used false origination addresses (spoofing) to fool spam filters they are now using the same trick to fool users with phishing scams. ASTA is looking at several technologies to secure the domain address of emails.

ASTA recomends that ISPs closely monitor software which can be used to create emails, like formmail.pl and CGI E-mail. It also recommends ISPs take a firmer line in identifying compromised machines. This can be done by paying attention to abuse complaints from other ISPs, monitoring email volumes from internal machines and testing networks for open relays or open proxies. Any machines found by these methods should be quarantined until fixed.

ASTA further recommends setting outbound email limits of about 150 messages per hour in order to limit the damage done if a machine is compromised. ISPs should take action to stop spammers being able to automatically register free email accounts.

Users also have a role to play. They should ensure they have up-to-date anti-virus software and personal firewalls. ISPs should ensure punters know about these techniques when they sign up for accounts.

The complete guidelines are available for download here ®

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