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Spam IBM

IBM Unveils Anti-Spam Services to Stop Spammers 443

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the keep-your-inbox-sparkly-clean dept.
bblazer writes "CNN Money is running a story about a new IBM service that spams the spammers. The idea behind the technology is that when a spam email is received, it is immediately sent back to the originating computer - not an email account. From the article, ""We're doing it to shut this guy down," Stuart McIrvine, IBM's director of corporate security strategy, told the paper. "Every time he tries to send, he gets slammed again."""
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IBM Unveils Anti-Spam Services to Stop Spammers

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  • Woah! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    IBM's Anti-Spam services are designed to stop spammers?!?!?

    What will they think of next?
  • by aristus (779174)
    And maybe the screaming hordes of DSL-bots will finally get shut down.
  • spamd (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:01AM (#12011599)
    I think I'll stick with spamd. It doesn't waste my bandwidth.
    • agreed (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pHatidic (163975)
      "Yes, we are adding more traffic to the network, but it is in an effort to cut down the longer-term traffic," said McIrvine.

      Isn't that sort of like cutting off your legs to run faster?

      • Re:agreed (Score:5, Insightful)

        by the_bard17 (626642) <theluckyone17@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:25AM (#12011895)
        Sounds more like undergoing chemo to kill cancer... just gotta hope that it kills the cancer before it kills you.

        Or so I've heard, anyhow.
        • Re:agreed (Score:5, Interesting)

          by bwcarty (660606) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:05PM (#12012357)
          You're right on the money.

          I went through chemo and radiation last year. The idea of chemo is that it kills cancerous cells, but it's completely untargetted, so you end up poisoning the whole body.

          Without the chemo, I'd likely be dead now. I traded a few months of extreme weakness in exchange for near perfect health now.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:40PM (#12012783)
        "spams the spammers"?

        I think not. This is from CNN after all. They publicly admit they lie often. This is true here.

        http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/fairuce/faq

        Take note to what this system actually does. Not what the (lying) press tells you.

        1. Isn't this just another challenge/response system?

        No. Challenge/response (C/R) systems challenge everybody; FairUCE sends a challenge only when the mail appears to be spoofed.

        2. Other anti-spam technologies work well. Why should I switch?

        FairUCE eliminates any need for a "probable spam" folder, as well as the necessity of keeping up with the latest version of antispam software.

        3. Will it run on Windows®, or with QMail, or with Sendmail, etc.?

        No, the current release does not.

        4. Is it fast?

        No real performance testing has been done, but speed is expected. The code basically consists of a few if/then statements and some DNS look-ups (which are cached in memory as well as on the DNS server). The mail server will probably bog down before FairUCE does.

        5. Don't all those challenges take up unnecessary bandwidth?

        A little bit, but it takes the server much less time to send out a small challenge than it does for the user to look at it in the spam folder, no matter how fast he presses the delete key. Legitimate senders know immediately that a user hasn't received their email, and they can click a button to have it delivered. Meanwhile, the emails sit in the queue for only an hour if they can't be delivered.

        • by ciscoguy01 (635963) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:34PM (#12014010)
          5. Don't all those challenges take up unnecessary bandwidth? A little bit, but it takes the server much less time to send out a small challenge than it does for the user to look at it in the spam folder, no matter how fast he presses the delete key. Legitimate senders know immediately that a user hasn't received their email, and they can click a button to have it delivered. Meanwhile, the emails sit in the queue for only an hour if they can't be delivered.

          The problem with this scheme is the "click a button" aspect. This would require HTML mail.
          The spam problem would be 80% solved if HTML mail were not used at all.
          1. Spammers wouldn't be able to track mail opening with tagged image links.
          2. Spammers wouldn't be able to propagate their custom programmed spamming trojans and viruses nearly as effectively.
          3. HTML mail is not needed. When was the last time you got email with a remote loaded picture in it (not attached) that actually interested you? Almost never in my case.

          Hey! I got it, the FUSSP! Just ban HTML mail!
    • Re:spamd (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cyngus (753668)
      While that is a short-term solution, I'd rather have a long-term solution that has the potential to eliminate the problem entirely.
  • How does this exactly help solving the spam problem when the machine sending the spam is not owned (but "0wned") by the spammer?

    Or do they plan to DDoS the spam-zombies?
    • by Hieronymus Howard (215725) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:28AM (#12011934)
      That's the whole point of this system. It tries to match the IP address of the sender to their domain name. If this is successful then the mail is classed as genuine and delivered. If it can't (i.e the sender is an 0wned PC), then it sends a challenge/response email back to the senders email address (not to the zombie PC). If the sender is genuine they click a button on the challenge/response email and the original mail gets accepted.

      As someone else pointed out, this could be used to DDOS someone by using a zombie net sending spam purporting to come from them. They'd then get innundated with challenge/reponse emails. Not nice.
      • That will get the user of FairUCE blacklisted. It's called backscatter. The email address provided in the SMTP transaction, or the message headers, should ABSOLUTELY NOT be considered valid unless, and until, the IP is verified as designated by the domain of the RHS of that email address. And then even that won't work very well if spammers start forging addresses within the same domain as the zombied machine. Don't forget that spammers do have a list of lots of email addresses within all the major domai

      • back to the senders email address

        Wow, kdjfuusidow@lerlkdfudfo.org is gonna be mighty upset when they see all their spam coming back at them.
      • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:09PM (#12013745) Journal
        It tries to match the IP address of the sender to their domain name. [...]If it can't [...]then it sends a challenge/response email back to the senders email address (not to the zombie PC). If the sender is genuine they click a button on the challenge/response email and the original mail gets accepted.

        Great:

        My site administers its own mail. But direct SMTP outbound mail uses a DSL line whose reverse translation points to our DSL provider, while outbound mail through the local mail servers goes through a mailserver site at a different ISP whose reverse translation will also point to them rather than us.

        So all our outgoing mail will receive the challenge. Mail is handled by polling, so every outgoing letter to a site using their tool will now require two extra email transactions, two extra wait-for-poll delays, plus an extra wait-for-sender-to-read-email delay. (No more "fire and forget - now email accounts have to be checked several times a day.)

        "Click a button"? On a mail reader without HTML or with it disabled? More like "copy and edit, and hope you don't screw it up".

        Yuck!
      • by AaronW (33736)
        Challenge response does not work well. In my case, there is a spammer out there who uses random email addresses at my domain name. Every time he sends a spam run I get anywhere from tens of thousands to over a hundred thousand bounced emails at my mail server. This server is for personal use only and is not designed to handle huge amounts of email, though Postfix doesn't seem to mind too much even though it's a 333MHz Pentium II box running Linux (uptime now at 595 days).

        While my mail server doesn't see
      • Anyone want to bet how long until a spammer sets up a zombie to hit IBM with emails from "joe@ibm.com"?

        If this description of how IBM built their system is accurate, they'll DOS themselves.

        My bet is one week, or until the first spammer gets ticked off by their zombies being slowed down, whichever comes first.
  • AOL and MSN (Score:4, Insightful)

    by justforaday (560408) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:02AM (#12011614)
    Watch as AOL and MSN/Hotmail now mark IBM as a spammer...
  • by spicydragonz (837027) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:02AM (#12011616)
    The networks of zombie PCs are going to be even more lagged by IBM. Maybe this will finally get their owners to patch or firewall them.
  • by aendeuryu (844048) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:02AM (#12011618)
    IBM Unveils Anti-Spam Services to Stop Spammers

    Anti-Spam services that STOP spam?!? You don't say? Now there's a novel idea...

    This joke was brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.
  • Seeing how most spams come from zombies, I'm not quite sure what we're after; It's cool that we'll chew up the bandwidth so it limits the amount of spam he can send, but it's not like that's actually hurting the spammer.

    I will be interested to see if this significantly limits the amount of spam at all.
  • by ptomblin (1378) <ptomblin@xcski.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:02AM (#12011627) Homepage Journal
    I don't understand what they mean about sending it back to the computer, not the email address. Do they mean that they'll identify the postmaster or domain administrator, because most spamers don't even have those addresses, or if they do they're total black holes.
  • by catisonh (805870) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:03AM (#12011629) Homepage
    What if the spammer had this same technology? Would the internet get stuck in an infinite loop and go to 100% usage?
    • " What if the spammer had this same technology? Would the internet get stuck in an infinite loop and go to 100% usage?"

      No more calls, we have a winner.

      Why not just offer a service that acknowledges to spammers that they have reached a viable recipient? This is better than the old "Click here if you want to get off this mailing list".

      For every 3 spam messages, I get a user saying they aren't getting their legitimate mail because the spam filter is blocking it.

      The British had the right idea. Find the spam
  • Great... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by donnyspi (701349) <junk5@@@donnyspi...com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:03AM (#12011631) Homepage
    Now we'll have even more junk traffic slowing things down on the internet. It's a waste of bandwidth, in my opinion, to do this.
  • Not a good idea. (Score:2, Informative)

    by grub (11606)

    Rather than adding yet more traffic to the net I think it'd be far better if more places ran OpenBSD's spamd [openbsd.org] package. It tarpit's mail connections from spammer machines thus consuming the remote machine's resources rather than generating more traffic in a misguided game of "fight fire with fire".
  • by filmmaker (850359) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:04AM (#12011644) Homepage
    IBM says in a new report that, in February, 76 percent of all e-mails were spam. While its report says that is down from a summer 2004 peak of nearly 95 percent, it is well above levels in February 2004.

    Interesting that the figure has dropped so significantly in a year's time. The mere fact that email has been so thoroughly polluted as a medium by spamvertisers prompts me to think that RSS could be a way to circumvent email and its problems entirely. Imagine if people had pass-protected RSS feeds for all their contacts, as well as group feeds and a public feed. Then, when it's time to email someone, you just insert a new entry in that person's feed. A mechanism that checks feeds 10 times an hour should be sufficient. In terms of end-user interface, it would be identical to email in every significant way. Just seems to me that there's no room for spammers in a system like that, since in order to be "spammed" you'd have to subscribe specifically to a spammers feed.

    There would be a lot of traffic overhead with a system like that, but it couldn't possibly be worse than the 75% spam overhead of email.
    • by embo (133713) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:17PM (#12012505)
      Eliminate RSS from the mix, and essentially you are talking about something similar to IM2000.

      http://cr.yp.to/im2000.html [cr.yp.to]

      The basic idea is to reverse the concept of how mail is handled today. If you want to send an email, you store it on your site until someone comes and picks it up from you. It is never delivered, all mail must be picked up. Instead of pulling your mail from a single Inbox, you pull your incoming mail from hundreds of repositories, depending on who is mailing you.

      One advantage is that if someone wants to send out a million emails, it is up to THEM to store it, not you. Blacklisting becomes easier, as does whitelisting, etc.


      And for you whiners who love bitching about how Dan Bernstein is behind it so it MUST be bad, please don't bother. That horse has been beaten to death hundreds of times before.
  • FairUCE (Score:5, Informative)

    by Florian Weimer (88405) <fw@deneb.enyo.de> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:05AM (#12011654) Homepage
    It's been reported on a mailing list that the article is actually about FairUCE [ibm.com], which implements something completely different which makes at least some sense (for scoring, not for outright blocking).
  • by dfn5 (524972) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:05AM (#12011655) Journal
    This kind of assumes that the machines that are sending spam are also listening for SMTP. IMHO I would doubt that. Also, what about all the hijacked Windoze boxes out there that are sending spam on behalf of spamers. Granted I wouldn't feel bad about them getting their hacked machines hosed, but I don't see how that would help the overall situation.

  • Maybe I'm just new here, but wouldn't spamming the spammers still cause an awful lot of network traffic on some "innocent" ISPs for the spam wars?
  • Doesn' this just... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    perpetuate the problem of increasing traffic on networks thereby increasing infrastructure costs to a company?

    Nevermind the fact that most spammers don't use a real e-mail address (shocker) -- but my IT department doesn't have funds to waste attacking spammers.
  • by Hieronymus Howard (215725) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:06AM (#12011674)
    This is a duplicate of http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/12/04/204 7246&tid=111&tid=185&tid=95

    However, the CNN story referenced seems to be utterly clueless as to how this technology, known as FairUCE, actually works. It really is nothing like they have described it. For real information go to IBM's page: http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/fairuce

    This system does not try to DDOS the spammers, or anything stupid like that. It attempts to link the IP address of the sender to the senders domain name using DNS and WHOIS lookups. If that fails, it sends a challenge/response email to the sender.
  • by bagofbeans (567926) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:08AM (#12011687)
    "e-mails coming from a computer on the spam list" are treated this way. Great. So when a variable-IP zombie pc power cycles and I get their old IP address next, it becomes my problem. Time to buy a fixed IP service, people.
    • Great. So when a variable-IP zombie pc power cycles and I get their old IP address next, it becomes my problem. Time to buy a fixed IP service, people.

      It says the mails will be returned immediately. The effect of innocent users should be minimal and short term, Once there's no more mail going out, the problem will clear up.

  • I mean, it is seriously flawed. Why not dump it and design an optimal system that can handle the real world issues that pertain to email? We keep trying to patch a flawed system, it is only going to get worse. I realize many people have dumped a lot of money into email systems, but it is fatally flawed.
  • Maybe they take incoming spam that would have been bounced and instead reconnect to the SMTP server that tried to send it and direct the email to postmaster@localhost ?
  • So they'll only be able to send spam at half speed.

    And that's just until they figure out how to set up a packet filtering rule.

    Not a big improvement.

  • More me too bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomstdenis (446163) <tomstdenis@REDHATgmail.com minus distro> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:10AM (#12011723) Homepage
    Real solutions to spam [in decreasing order of success]

    1. Not use SMTP, sounds like a shocker but like the doctor says "if it hurts don't do it".

    2. honeypots can be used to waste spammers time

    3. Absolutely don't reply to spam in any form

    But the real problem is SMTP is not a reliable or robust protocol for the problem it tries to solve. The fact that people keep pushing it shows they're lazy.

    But you don't have to abandon SMTP completely. Something as simple as hashcash could essentially eliminate spam.

    Just nobody wants to actually implement it [re: think about a mozilla/thunderbird plugin that uses X-HEADERS to put/read hashcashes].

    Tom
    • by Zocalo (252965) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:28AM (#12011928) Homepage
      But you don't have to abandon SMTP completely. Something as simple as hashcash could essentially eliminate spam.

      Actually, you don't have to abandon SMTP at all. The protocol has already undergone a fairly major revision with the change to ESMTP and there are very few servers left that are still SMTP only. Technically, it wouldn't be very hard to bolt a much more robust mail transfer mechanism onto SMTP in the same manner we use to deliniate SMTP and ESMTP - the mail server banner and client "HELO/EHLO". For instance you could change the ESMTP banner to include the string "ESMTP v2" instead of just "ESMTP" and compliant servers could sign on with "ALLO", while older clients can still resort to "EHLO" or even "HELO" while the deployment is underway.

      Simple, huh? Unfortunately not, because politically, it would probably be a complete nightmare to actually do anything like this. The whole idea would almost certainly break apart under the weight of competing agendas from the various parties involved. I think the whole MARID fiasco [circleid.com] proved that beyond any doubt.

  • by dalewj (187278) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:15AM (#12011790) Homepage
    1) Person on comcast gets zombie-fied
    2) starts sending out spam to say IBM
    3) IBM sends back spam to the zombie
    4) IBM gets put on every RBL list because it actually is sending spam, think about it
    5) comcast and every major company using that RBL and every user in comcast can no longer get mail from IBM
    6) IBM yells and screams to RBL list owner that they really arent sending spam, just well sending back email to people who didn't ask for it, or didn't want it or didn't sign up for it. OK they are sending spam... just not bad spam.

    Only positive I see is maybe ISPs like comcast might wake the hell up and start cleaning up the problems and stop ignoring their users.
  • by Elixon (832904) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:16AM (#12011798) Homepage
    Suppose the spammer's machine that sends 200k e-mails per hour. This machine is for sending only. It does not have any port for receiving e-mails opened. So - the throughtoutput must be high to send out 200k of e-mails, and what they will do to the spammers? If all servers (it is not likely to happen) are having IBM soft then they will receive 200k attempts per hour to connect to blocked ports on spammers machine while trying to hit back... And this is going to stop them? :-) Their specialized machines tuned for sending with no receiving capabilities against high-performance spam-analyzing machines that will waste CPU by identifying spam and waste bandwith while trying repeatdly pass e-mail to some blocked ports on spammers machine... Hm. I don't understand it. Just another way how to hurt people afected by spam by selling the useless software/hw to them.
  • useless tactic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by msblack (191749) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:16AM (#12011800)
    IBM's tactic is utterly useless because the vast majority of spam originates from zombie PCs. Those zombie system may have an SMTP engine to generate spam, but they most likely do not have port 25 open. Bouncing the spam back will be futile. It is more likely to generate a new denial-of-service attack: send a spam to IBM and watch them fight in vain attempting to bounce back the message.
  • by Theatetus (521747) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:19AM (#12011845) Journal

    ipchains -A input -s $MYNETWORKS -j ACCEPT
    ipchains -A input -p tcp -dport 25 -j DENY

    I mean, I suppose in theory IBM could DOS my ipchains, but this is rate-limited by what I'm capable of sending out, which is significantly less than ipchains could handle.

  • Smurf (Score:4, Interesting)

    by skinfitz (564041) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:23AM (#12011877) Journal
    Anyone remember the smurf attack? Send a large ICMP PING to a broadcast address from a spoofed IP of your real victim - all the machines in the subnet then DDoS the victim with replies sent to the spoofed address. This new DDoS of spamming machines sounds kind of similar. What's to stop haxx0rs exploiting this to cause a DDoS of non-spammers?
  • nope (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:24AM (#12011879)
    Your post advocates a

    (x) technical ( ) legislative ( ) market-based (x) vigilante

    approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

    ( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
    ( ) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
    ( ) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
    (x) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
    ( ) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
    ( ) Users of email will not put up with it
    ( ) Microsoft will not put up with it
    (x) The police will not put up with it
    ( ) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
    ( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
    ( ) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
    ( ) Spammers don't care about invalid addresses in their lists
    (x) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business

    Specifically, your plan fails to account for

    (x) Laws expressly prohibiting it
    ( ) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
    (x) Open relays in foreign countries
    ( ) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
    (x) Asshats
    ( ) Jurisdictional problems
    ( ) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
    ( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
    ( ) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
    ( ) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
    ( ) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
    (x) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
    ( ) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
    ( ) Extreme profitability of spam
    ( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
    ( ) Technically illiterate politicians
    ( ) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
    ( ) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
    ( ) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
    ( ) Outlook

    and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

    ( ) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever
    been shown practical
    ( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
    ( ) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
    (x) Blacklists suck
    ( ) Whitelists suck
    ( ) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
    ( ) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
    (x) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
    ( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
    ( ) Sending email should be free
    ( ) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
    ( ) Incompatiblity with open source or open source licenses
    ( ) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
    ( ) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
    ( ) I don't want the government reading my email
    (x) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

    Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

    (x) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
    ( ) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
    ( ) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your
    house down!
  • by crovira (10242) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:34AM (#12011971) Homepage
    is the law and the fines that will be applied internationally and enforced (collected) by the local authorities on the SOURCE.

    If there was no Spam senders there would be no problem with Spam. Right? The problem is that we keep going after the carrier, not the beneficiary.

    Fine the people for whom and on whose behalf the Spam is sent. Make it for one dollar per spam message received. Instead of sending for free, the messages end up costing more than the Post Office.
  • by big-magic (695949) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @11:43AM (#12012046)
    For those that actually read the article, it is completely wrong. It does a terrible job of explaining FairUCE. Read the material at http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/fairuce [ibm.com]. They are not advocating sending spam back to the spammers, but instead are using a combination challenge/response and DNS lookups to associate a reputation to the IP that is sending the email message. I figured IBM was smarter than the original article was implying.
    • I read the IBM article. Sounds like the early days of SpamCop. SpamCop traces headers back to the originator or the first phony header, to validate the source. Mail with tracing problems used to get a challenge from SpamCop, but they gave up on that. Challenge-response effectively does a denial of service attack on joe-job victims. It's also incompatible with too many legitimate autoresponder systems that send mail confirmations of transactions.
  • by gregory (17063) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:10PM (#12012425)
    Here's the text of the WSJ article cited by CNN. It actually has much better information and clarifies some points.

    --

    IBM Embraces Bold Method To Trap Spam

    By CHARLES FORELLE
    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
    March 22, 2005; Page B1

    Warriors in the battle against junk e-mail are adopting a contentious tactic: Spam the spammers.

    The most-common spam defense used to date -- software filters that attempt to identify and block out the unwanted messages -- hasn't stopped the flood of Viagra pitches, cut-rate mortgage offers, and solicitations for foolproof investment schemes swamping many inboxes. Some recent studies say 50% to 75% of e-mails carried over the Internet are spam.

    An alternate approach -- counterattacking, in effect -- has been available for some time to users of open-source software, for which code is posted free of charge on the Internet. But adoption in corporate offices has been slow, partly because of fears of exposing companies to certain liabilities -- especially if a target is actually innocent of spamming.

    But now the practice is going mainstream. International Business Machines Corp. is expected to unveil today its first major foray into the anti-spam market with a service, based on a new IBM technology called FairUCE, that uses a giant database to identify computers that are sending spam. One key feature: E-mails coming from a computer on the spam list are sent directly back to the machine, not just the e-mail account, that sent them. The more spam that comes out, the more vigorous the response.

    "We're doing it to shut this guy down," says Stuart McIrvine, IBM's director of corporate security strategy. "Every time he tries to send, he gets slammed again."

    The IBM move follows security giant Symantec Corp., which released a new product in January that uses a similar technology called "traffic shaping" to slow connections from suspected spam computers.

    Trapping spammers is sometimes called "teergrubing," from the German word for "tar pit" -- as in, spammers get stuck. It is the equivalent of answering a telemarketer's phone call, "saying 'Hi, how are you,' and setting the phone down and seeing how long he'll talk before realizing there's no one on the other end," says Tom Liston, a computer-security expert.

    Teergrubes exploit some convenient features of the Internet, which was designed to be a polite method of communication. Computers -- including e-mail servers -- that chat back and forth in the Internet's electronic protocol will courteously wait to see that their data has been received before sending more. Typically, such acknowledgments come in a matter of milliseconds. A computer set up to teergrube will languorously stretch its responses out to minutes -- effectively tying up the spamming machine and reducing its ability to pump out messages.

    How to handle spam -- or, indeed, any other form of unwanted electronic traffic -- is a tricky issue in security circles. Gaining unauthorized entry to a remote system, even in order to stop it from harming yours, is generally illegal under anti-hacking laws. The aggressive new products from IBM and others don't violate those rules, but they can increase the amount of network traffic. Unnecessary traffic increases are generally frowned upon.

    But proponents of aggressive antispam tactics say something needs to be done to choke off the supply; simply turning the other cheek and trying to discard spam as quickly as possible isn't enough. IBM says in a new report that in February 76% of all e-mails were spam, down from a summer 2004 peak of nearly 95%, but still well above levels at the same time last year.

    "Yes, we are adding more traffic to the network, but it is in an effort to cut down the longer-term traffic," says IBM's Mr. McIrvine. Brian Czarny, vice president of marketing for MessageLabs Ltd., which uses the Symantec product, says traffic shaping doesn't constitute a potentially illegal "denial of service" attack because it is r
  • Innocent bystanders? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:20PM (#12012534) Homepage Journal
    Isn't this sort of like blowing up a speeding car?

    The collateral damage to innocent people will be tremendous.. If a spammer is stupid enough to use his own machine, he would drop off line instantly after he broadcasts.. IBM's packets have to go somewhere, flooding out neighbors..

    Plus, what if the person spamming has been infected with a virus and isn't knowingly spamming, or IBM's system misidentifies the offending machine? There would be hell to pay..

    Yes, spam sux, and it needs to stop, but we need to do it properly..
  • It won't work (Score:3, Insightful)

    by macdaddy (38372) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:39PM (#12014071) Homepage Journal
    I haven't seen a spammer's box in the last couple of years that's used to send spam also listen on tcp/25. That's because they don't have a SMTP server listening. When you try to send the spam back to the originating computer you're going to get your TCP connection rejected simply because they aren't running a SMTP server. Who's resources are they planning on wasting? Good grief. This isn't rocket science.
    • Re:It won't work (Score:3, Interesting)

      and in addition, not only do they not have an inbound port 25, but their sender usually doesn't keep track of who has rejected them and go back and retry.

      an idea a lot of people have done is: reject ALL first attempts and label them. reject all incomings from that identity for x minutes. then open the gate and let them thru next time.

      a valid sender WILL retry and queue up messages. a spammer will rarely queue up and retry.

      this also works. downside is that you delay receipt of mail. but most companie
  • by gelfling (6534) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:25PM (#12014691) Homepage Journal
    First off McIrvine only works for Tivoli so what he's selling is a toolkit you can retrofit into a hosting farm.

    Next he's talking about a SERVICE so that if IGS hosts a customer, it's 99% likely that the customer will have a domain of customername.com not ibm.com. The spam fighter will originate from customername.com. So if some other source detects that the spam fighter is spam only that domain will get hammered.

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