Hotmail Users Have A Weapon Against Spam

Microsoft has linked up with anti-spam technology provider Brightmail in an attempt to stem the tide of junk e-mail messages flooding the in-boxes of MSN Hotmail’s 110 million users.

Hotmail, the most popular free Web-based e-mail service, has become a top target of spammers. Its users are subjected to unsolicited messages offering everything from cut-rate mortgages to used printer cartridges to hard-core porn.

San Francisco-based Brightmail’s technology aims to kill spam before it ever reaches a user’s in-box. Using Brightmail’s Probe Network, a grouping of over 200 million e-mail addresses, Brightmail tries to lure spam. After its software identifies the spam, it then goes for the kill, filtering the unsolicited messages as they reach the SMTP gateway. Brightmail said its software catches about 90 percent of junk-mail messages.

“Unsolicited junk e-mail is a global problem the affects not just Hotmail users, but e-mail users everywhere,” Rick Holzli, general manager of MSN Hotmail, said in a statement.

MSN said Brightmail’s anti-spam technology would be put to use later this fall.

In April 2001, Brightmail signed a deal to deploy anti-spam software as an option for MSN’s 5 million e-mail users.

The Brightmail alliance is the second enlistee MSN has signed up this month in its war against Hotmail spam. Two weeks ago, McAfee announced its SpamKiller software, which costs $39.95, was compatible with Hotmail. A further option will be Microsoft’s MSN 8 service, which will offer enhanced spam controls, along with a bevy of other add-on services. Microsoft is slated to release MSN 8 in the next few weeks.

Hotmail relies on self-service tools that attempt to filter junk mail, with mixed success. Hotmail users can choose their level of filtering, up to exclusive, which only allows e-mail messages from addresses in a user’s contact list.

“Microsoft selected us because you have to scale and we proved we can do that,” Brightmail CEO Enrique Salem told Internet News, ” and second is accuracy. Accuracy is key.”

Salem said too many spam filters take out messages that are not actually junk mail. Brightmail’s false-positive rate, however, is just one per 100,000, he said.

Once an annoyance, spam has become a menace on the Internet, as evidenced by the crippling blow spammers dealt AT&T’s WorldNet in February.

In July, Brightmail reported that 36 percent of the 2.3 billion messages that went through its deployed software was spam, up from 8 percent a year ago. Junk mail has become a major problem for businesses, as spam eats up bandwidth, storage space, and employee productivity.

Consumer groups recently called for the federal authorities to become more involved in the war on spam, as a growing portion of it is for scams, including the notorious and ubiquitous Nigerian letter scam and its imitators. The Internet Fraud Complaint Center estimates Americans were bilked out of $17.8 million through online fraud last year.

With e-mail address lists plentiful and cheap, spam is likely to only grow worse. Mail-Abuse Prevention Systems, an anti-spam organization, estimates the number of unsolicited e-mail rose as much as 700 percent between April and June compared to the same period a year earlier.

According to researcher Gartner Group, only 5 percent of enterprises will block 90 percent of the malicious e-mails sent to their e-mail addresses.

Brightmail, along with anti-spam software startups like IronPort and Cloudmark, has sought to capitalize on growing worries over the costs of spam. The company boasts deals with six of the top ten Internet service providers to deploy its software.

Financial details of the Hotmail deal were not announced, but Brightmail traditionally charges by the number of e-mail boxes it protects rather than a licensing agreement.