Fixing the E-Mail Mess

By Michael Miller  |  Posted 2004-03-11 Print this article Print

The practical implications of fighting spam with spam are staggering.

In our February 17 issue we published a cover story on the e-mail mess, in which we examined the problems people are having with spam and viruses. Despite the recent passage of the federal CAN-SPAM legislation and the updating of a number of antispam tools, the problem has only gotten worse in the past few months.

To get to my mailbox, a message has to go through three antispam filters—one on the server, one built into Microsoft Outlook, and a third-party antispam product. Yet more and more spam is getting through. Even worse, the spam is becoming more dangerous, as some messages contain identity theft schemes and e-mail worms.

Why the Easy Answers Dont Work. Since that article appeared, Ive received a number of e-mail messages from readers who think they have ways to stop spam once and for all. The most common suggestion is that legislation will solve the problem, but I think CAN-SPAM has proved that it wont. Despite a few high-profile prosecutions under the law, the overall level of spam hasnt dropped. I was in favor of CAN-SPAM, if only because a federal law made more sense than lots of state laws. But the idea that any one law can stop spammers is hopeless.

Another group of readers think that a whitelist of acceptable senders combined with a challenge/response mechanism is the only real way to solve the problem. This approach works for individuals who want e-mail only from certain individuals. But it doesnt work for organizations that want to hear from potential customers. And this method is far from ideal if you want to get e-mail newsletters or legitimate notifications from companies with which you do business.

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Michael J. Miller is Executive Vice President and Editorial Director of Ziff Davis Media Inc., where he takes an active role in corporate editorial issues, helps identify new editorial needs in the marketplace and shapes the editorial process of every Ziff Davis Media publication.

He joined the company in 1991 as Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine. Under Miller's supervision, PC Magazine has grown to have the largest readership of any technology publication in the world, at 5.9 million readers. He oversaw the redesign of PC Magazine, the launch of and an expansion of PC Magazine Labs, the largest computer testing lab run by any publication.

Prior to joining PC Magazine, Miller was editor-in-chief of InfoWorld, which he joined as executive editor in 1985. Previously, he was the West Coast Bureau Chief for Popular Computing, and Senior Editor for Building Design & Construction.

An experienced public speaker and veteran technology journalist, Miller has become the 'spokesperson' for the technology industry. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including being named to Medill's Alumni Hall of Achievement. In 2002, Mr. Miller was named the number one consumer/computer journalist by Technology Marketing magazine.

Mr. Miller holds a Master of Science degree in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.


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