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Email authentication gaining steam

Sender ID and DomainKeys pushed at anti-spam summit

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A host of software companies, security firms and internet service providers met in Chicago on Wednesday to urge corporations and bulk message senders to adopt email authentication technologies.

The technologies, known as Sender ID and DomainKeys, aim to allow email recipients to positively identify the sender of an email message and hold the promise of giving service providers the tools they need to effectively end spam and phishing attacks.

Yahoo!, the creator of DomainKeys, receives about a billion messages a day signed with the technology though Yahoo! Mail, the company said. Meanwhile, more than 2.4m domains are publishing the additional domain information required for Sender ID, up from 20,000 two years ago, according to Microsoft, which has spearheaded the Sender ID initiative. In total, more than 35 per cent of email is authenticated in some way and 21 per cent of Fortune 500 companies publish Sender ID records, according to Microsoft.

Considering that both authentication technologies modify current email practices in some way, that's solid progress, said Craig Spiezle, director of the technology care and safety group at Microsoft and the chairman of Wednesday's Email Authentication Summit.

"This process is a 747 in mid-flight," Spiezle said "You want to make these modifications to the infrastructure but you don't want to bring it down. The whole goal here is minimal cost and effort."

The summit marks the passage of a two year deadline promised by Bill Gates in January 2004, by which spam would cease to be a problem for internet users. While Microsoft has missed the target, if the boosterism represented by the summit continues to work and adoption grows, then internet service providers will have credible tools to help significantly reduce the amount of spam appearing in customer inboxes.

"This is like the telephone problem - no one wants to have the first one," said Eric Allman, chief science officer for email server software maker Sendmail. "But we are seeing a lot of people who want some sort of technology to solve the spam problem."

The summit also marks the comeback for Sender ID and an evolutionary step for DomainKeys. About 18 months ago, Microsoft's efforts to push forward the standard almost came to naught, when the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the net's technical standards body, rejected the company's proposal over patent issues. Domain Keys, supported by Yahoo!, is in the process of being merged into another technology proposed by Cisco Systems, to create DomainKeys Identified Mail.

Email authentication does not solve the problem of unsolicited commercial email but provides a tool to end the spoofing of the sender's address, making the consequences of sending bulk email a reality for spammers.

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