Stalling Tactic Stymies Spammers

Spammers hate to wait, so Canadian firm MailChannels is capitalizing on their impatience in a new approach toward stemming the tide of unwanted e-mail. By forcing e-mail programs to slow down their digital handshakes – the exchange of information required before Internet servers will handle the recipients’ incoming mail – MailChannels has found that many spammers just decide to give up and move on to more promising pastures.

The program, called Traffic Control, allows e-mail administrators to extend the handshake time – normally around two seconds – to anywhere between 10 seconds to a couple of minutes. MailChannels founder Ken Simpson says that unlike legitimate senders, 90 percent of spammers give up after 10 seconds of being “on hold.”

“Even after eight minutes, 60 percent of legitimate e-mail senders are still hanging on trying to get their messages delivered. This is the technique spammers are really only going to get hurt by, because if we just build a better spam filter, the spammers will respond by increasing the amount of junk mail they’re blasting out. But if you throttle them, there really is nothing they can do except persist like legitimate senders, but if they do that then the economics of spamming goes out the window,” said Simpson.

To get around the prospect of a legitimate e-mail traffic jam, Traffic Control offers an additional feature that helps e-mail servers perform more efficiently. Spam researcher Bill Stearns says the volume of spam that is filtered out by this technique is impressive, and that unlike conventional filters, spammers can’t just circumvent the barricade. “It’s going to take a long time before a technique like this becomes useless.”

The Washington Post, April 10, 2007

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