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By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-11-15 Print this article Print

The other question I have about Yahoo is why it has refused to implement SPF. Sender Policy Framework is the uncontroversial part of Sender ID, the part that checks the message envelope.

Many people still argue that SPF is all we really need. But no serious people believe this, least of all SPFs author Meng Weng Wong, who is a principal author and sponsor of the Sender ID spec and also a fan of DomainKeys. All SPF really stops is bounce messages, also known as "Joe Jobs." Its an important part of the solution, but its far from an adequate one.

But it is an easy one, and theres no good technical reason why Yahoo should resist it. All the other major mail providers, to my knowledge, are implementing SPF as part of their experimentation. The answer for Yahoo is probably something as stupid as not wanting people to get the misimpression that they are hedging on DomainKeys. I asked the company about this several weeks ago, and it weaseled out of a direct answer. Most dissatisfying.

The Yahoo announcement focuses on phishing, probably because its topical. Spam has become a major annoyance, but phishing is scary. And SPF does nothing to address phishing. This is why Microsoft developed Caller ID, the header portion of Sender ID.

I should also take a moment to wag my finger at those who continue to express concern at how spammers are adopting SPF and other authentication standards in order to get around them. I dont know if theyre walking into a trap or if theyre just experimenting, but it wont do them any good. The more spammers authenticate, the easier they will make themselves to block.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. Remember, authentication systems are not complete anti-spam systems. They just identify who is sending the mail, not why they are sending it. This whole approach requires the coordinated use of reputation systems that will use the authenticated address to tell you whether a sender is trustworthy. In such a scenario, an authenticated spammer becomes easy to block.

The collapse of MARID brought forth a call for experimentation with the various proposals in the hope that the experience would inform the standards process and help to produce a consensus. Were lucky. The experimentation so far has formed along the lines one would expect, meaning the proposals backed by the major players. The advancement of DomainKeys puts in an approach that the open-source community wont object to and that is forward-looking. It doesnt have to be the only success in this area, but its good that we have it.

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. 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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