Feeds

Anti-spam user authentication is 'worse than useless'

Trivial to break

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Claims that user authentication schemes will reduce spam are not just wrong but "wrongheaded", a security researcher warned on Friday.

User authentication schemes such as SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and Sender ID check if machines are allowed to send email from a claimed domain - a kind of caller line identification (more here on email authentication). But "this doesn't tell you who the actual sender was or the spaminess of a message," Nick FitzGerald, of Computer Virus Consulting in New Zealand, said.

Worse, botnets - networks of "zombie" PCs controlled by hackers - "screw anti-spam authentication". he noted. "User authentication is worse than nothing at all. For example, SPF is broken before implementation because it's not just breakable but trivial to break," he said.

Although current spam bots don't directly beat SPF it would be trivial to add a few lines of code to do just that, according to FitzGerald, who was speaking at the Virus Bulletin conference in Dublin on Friday.

Vesselin Bontchev of anti-virus firm FRISK disagreed with FitzGerald's conclusions, arguing that user authentication will at least help ISPs to identify compromised PCs. But FitzGerald said the economics of the ISP business meant that it cost too much to use this data to mount clean-up operations.

Dmitri Alperovitch, principal research scientist at security appliance firm CipherTrust, agreed with FitzGerald that user authentication schemes are unlikely to have much impact on spam. Spammers have become early adopters of email authentication technology, he said. "Its backers don't claim it will stop spam but they do hope it will control phishing and even that is questionable," he added. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.