Sat, Jun 26, 2004 - Page 10 News List

No end in sight to anti-spam war

FEW LEGAL REMEDIES A draft bill to penalize spammers has been proposed, but industry analysts say its effectiveness will be limited to those willing to obey the law

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Just as in the battle against computer viruses, corporate and individual computer users may soon have to become self-reliant in the escalating war against unwanted e-mail, or spam, industry leaders said yesterday.

Computer users and Internet Services Providers (ISPs) have called upon the government to enact legislation to curb unscrupulous spammers, as many other countries have done. But even as the draft of such a bill has finally been tabled, anti-spam experts said junk mail will still be jamming mailboxes everyday.

"I think consumers may need to install anti-spam software just like they did to protect their computers from virus attacks, once the number of junk mails they receive reaches an intolerable level," said Pan Jou-juan (潘兆娟), deputy executive director of the Secure Online Shopping Association (消費者電子商務協會).

According to an Internet poll conducted by the association and National Taipei University of Technology during April and last month, local users spend an average of eight minutes deleting about 42 pieces of junk e-mail everyday, which could consume NT$60 billion of resources annually.

"Law enforcement is the last defense measure against junk mail, and the sad thing is, it can only regulate those who obey it," Pan said.

The Department of Posts and Telecommunications on Wednesday released its proposed draft of a law to curb span, which stipulates that commercial e-mail senders must include procedures that allow e-mail recipients to unsubscribe to further e-mails from the source, as well as putting "advertisement" in the subject line of the message. Violators would face jail terms ranging from six months to five years and fines of between NT$5 million to NT$20 million per e-mail.

However, an official admitted that it would be basically impossible for e-mail recipients to take legal action since most spammers are anonymous.

Rosa Shih (史秀蓉), a marketing director in Taiwan of US-based anti-spam software maker Brightmail Inc, said that the proposed law might intimidate amateur spammers, but professional ones can easily avoid detection.

Many spammers access other users' servers to send their e-mails and open servers have made this even easier, Shih said.

An engineer with state-run Chunghwa Telecom Co's (中華電信) Hinet, the nation's largest Internet service provider, said his company has blocked more than 100 million junk mails for its users, but another 100 million escaped detection because as soon as one screening technology is adapted spammers find other holes in the system to get through.

The engineer, who didn't want to be named, said the proposed law would do nothing to limit the vast amount of spam coming from abroad.

Local ISPs including Hinet, Seednet and So-net have established an association to seek cooperation from their counterparts in other countries, including China, to fight spam, he said.

"We still have a long way to go," the engineer said.

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