Partnership in the war against spam is nothing new, but it’s curious that when we do hear about countries, organizations, and law enforcement agencies teaming up, it’s usually in the context of taking down a botnet or taking a group of cybercrooks into custody. So it’s worth mentioning when a group of organizations enters a formal agreement to fight spam, if only because we’re not entirely used to seeing a proactive approach when it comes to dealing with the nasty blighter. Such is the case this week, as the International Telecommunications Union and the Internet Society announced that they’ve penned a formal agreement to fight spam.
According to ZDNet, the two organizations will work together in a collaborative effort that will “see both organizations identify ways to build “long-term capacity” for resolving the spam problem in developing countries, including joint cooperative activities to provide the increasing need for information on how to do so.”
Companies like Microsoft have been prolific in the war, often providing their support to law organizations in the neverending war on botnets. It wasn’t long ago that the company worked with the US Marshall Service to take down Rustock, a move that at the time saw a reported one third decline in global spam email.
This type of partnership isn’t uncommon; in fact, it’s often necessary because of the sheer scope of the operations. Botnets are spread out over large geographic areas, ignoring national borders and infesting computers on a global basis. That’s their point and their purpose, their raison d’être. Criminal organizations can be geographically diverse, too. They don’t need to be in the same place to enact their crimes. Although typically small organizations tend to know each other and live close to each other, that’s by no means an absolute truth and the modern world provides many of methods by which like-minded criminals can meet and work together, even over great distances. It’s one of the many challenges that face those of us who fight the good fight against spam, which constitutes 75% to 80% of worldwide email traffic.
But the ITU and Internet Society have rightly recognized that this is a global threat and that strength comes from numbers. In a statement released by the two organizations, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré states that “Combating the growing menace of spam and the protection of data is a global concern for legitimate Internet and smartphone users . We need to find global solutions to curtail the flow of intrusive junk mail which not only clogs up the Internet but also carries huge cost implications.”
The agreement reached by the two parties is an extension of efforts begun by the Internet Society last year, when the group conducted workshops designed to “look at various roles in developing anti-spam measures, and assessed areas where capacity can be built. Such initiatives are necessary to combat spam amid the increasing use of mobile devices and social media.“ According to their press release, the collaboration will focus on three main areas:
- Facilitating greater regional access to technical experts from the global Internet community who can share anti-spam knowledge and experiences on an ongoing basis
- Providing educational training and information on effective anti-spam policies, technical solutions and operational requirements
- Documenting anti-spam best practices
Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, states that “while the telecommunication industry and Internet communities have made great strides in creating best practices and developing technical tools to combat spam, there is a need to build awareness in developing countries of the ongoing technical, industry and policy developments in this regard, and to centralize the knowledge and expertise available. This partnership aims to fill that need.”
Spam is a serious problem, no matter where you live. But because spam accounts for so much traffic – unnecessary traffic – it’s a serious problem in parts of the world where bandwidth isn’t plentiful. Parts of the western world enjoy high speed broadband, and so spam, from a bandwidth hogging viewpoint, anyway, doesn’t have the same impact as it does in places where Internet connections simply cannot handle the congestion created by spam.
Internet Society President and CEO Kathy Brown points out that “the costs associated with spam related to wasted bandwidth, storage and network infrastructure, as well as the increased security risks are amplified in developing regions. By collaborating with ITU, we hope to make a real and positive impact on the world’s most vulnerable economies.”
It’s a valiant effort, to be sure, and a bold step toward taking the fight to the spammers’ doorsteps. Hopefully, the ITU and Internet Society will set the new standard for the ongoing war on spam, and we wish them nothing but the best.