Vendor proposes open e-mail standards to fight spam

Antispam and trust services vendor ePrivacy Group has proposed a new open standard for e-mail that could help in the fight against unsolicited spam.

In an announcement this week, the company said that its new Trusted E-mail Open Standard (TEOS) could help sort spam from legitimate e-mail using technologies that add verifiable sender identification and content assertions to the good stuff.

The company has released a 35-page white paper describing its proposal for using trust technologies it developed to give users more control over incoming mail. TEOS is based on e-mail identity and content assertion technology already used by some marketers and Internet service providers as part of the Trusted Sender program, which ePrivacy Group operates in conjunction with Truste, a nonprofit organization that has established a consumer privacy certification and seal program.

TEOS proposes to add a layer of security to the existing Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP), which is a standard protocol used to move e-mail across the Internet. The TEOS layer would essentially assure recipients that mail is from someone they want to hear from.

At its most basic level, TEOS creates a framework of trusted identity for e-mail senders based on secure, fast, lightweight signatures in e-mail headers, according to the company.

Stephen Cobb, vice president of research and education at ePrivacy Group, said the company is introducing the idea for the open standards to try to build support within the industry. Company representatives have been talking about the idea this week at an antispam forum being held by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in Washington, he said.

"We're discussing it with America Online, Microsoft, Yahoo and (companies) like that," Cobb said. "The plan is to keep badgering" the Internet community.

The hope, he said, is that some of the big players will create some sort of authority to oversee e-mail practices in an effort to improve the fight against spam. "That would be the next step," Cobb said.

Michael Osterman, an analyst at Osterman Research, said technologies for trusted e-mail are already being used by some vendors. But there are some pitfalls, he added.

"For some industries, it's probably a good idea to have that," Osterman said. "The problem is that potentially it could be an impediment to e-mail flow" as e-mail comes in from senders that aren't familiar to an e-mail system, slowing down the distribution of messages.

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