By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-01-30 Print this article Print

Everyones numbers show a rapid increase in phishing attacks and forecast a continuing increase. Postini says that as much as 1 percent of all spam is phishing of some sort (like spam, the definition of phishing probably is not standard). Sounds like good news for companies that specialize in countering phishing attacks. Ive also seen anecdotal evidence that—until this last weeks MyDoom and Bagle outbreaks—e-mail worm traffic had declined to very low levels. Now thats a trend I can believe, since theres no good reason for someone to get infected by one of these things unless they are utterly irresponsible.
AOL does insist that their numbers are for real, and they tell me that the numbers they put out factored into some of the issues I brought up, such as declining enrollment. Assuming for the moment that everyone (except me, of course) is exaggerating to advance their self-interest, AOL would be expected to give you the impression that they are better at blocking spam and intimidating spammers than their competitors. Postini, MessageLabs and Symantec, on the other hand, dont really have an interest in spam going away, because their sales are proportional to the level of threat.

And a number of unique factors about AOL make it possible, maybe even imperative, that they work more aggressively. First, since their user base is the biggest load of newbies on the Net, they are a natural target for spammers looking for naiveté. Second, AOL has been more aggressive about blocking outbound SMTP connections than other ISPs. Some ISPs still dont even require SMTP AUTH (where you have to provide logon information for your outbound connection); in such cases spammers can use a zombied system to send mail through the ISPs mail servers. They even have a rate-limiting capability called SRL that limits other ISPs zombied systems.

Its easy to see where such logic takes you, and I find it much more believable that the people Im talking to at all of these companies are professionals and really do see themselves as fighting spam on behalf of their users. This leads me to believe everyone, including the possibility that AOL really is way ahead of the curve. Perhaps the Internet Engineering Task Force should just recommend AOL accounts as a new Internet standard for spam fighting.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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