RTP Beat is a regular feature on LTW every Thursday
RESEARCH TRIANGLE…One reason most current stop spam programs don’t stop spam is that spammers and anti-spammers are playing “a cat and mouse game,” says Reggie Strange, co-founder and chief technology officer of Centuro Software.
That’s also a reason the U.S. Federal Trade Commission decided yesterday that it would not establish a do-not-spam registry similar to the telemarketer do-not-call registry. “Consumers will be spammed if we do a registry and spammed if we don’t,” FTC chairman Timothy Muris told The Washington Post. Officials said they fear spammers would actually use the list to send spam.
The U.S. anti-spam law, called the CAN-SPAM Act, does not seem to have slowed the onslaught of unsolicited commercial email either. Some recent industry estimates say spam actually increased to from 60 to 80 percent of all email since the Act took effect in January.
Strange, who runs Atlanta Internet Consulting, and Dave Kaminski, chief executive officer, Raleigh, founded Centuro to stop the spam problem. “We’ve already got a product and we’re signing up customers,” Strange says. The company claims its system cuts spam to five a year without also stopping trusted senders.
Strange has operated his Atlanta Web-hosting business, which has about 170 clients, for nine years, four of them fulltime. Strange developed the Centuro software because he had so much trouble with spam at his business.
“Right now we get 1500 spams overnight — all stopped,” Strange says. “It’s amazing to think back to how annoying it was to get maybe 100 a day in my inbox. Now that doesn’t happen.”
The company has been testing the current 2.0 release version of its anti-spam system for the last six months. Clients using it include a Georgia Cherokee County Magistrate’s office and patent attorneys Coats & Bennett. The company released the 2.0 version this month.
Centuro’s product works differently than those trying to stop spam via server blacklists, challenge and response exchanges, or artificial intelligence algorithms, Strange says. “A lot of these products are designed to stop spam immediately,” he explains.
Doomed to fail?
The new anti-spam systems proposed by industry leaders Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and others rely on so-called challenge and response systems. Incoming email is challenged to confirm its identity, locking it out until it responds with a key.
Microsoft’s system and Yahoo’s proposed domain keys don’t stop spam directly. They verify where it came from, which is intended to stop email address spoofing, the tool spammers use to keep spam cops from finding them.
“You’re going to get a lot of that going on, with your system challenging theirs and theirs challenging yours in return. We need something to make all this easier and more manageable.” He notes that spammers are also likely to counter such systems by buying cheap domain names, using them until they’re nabbed, then discarding them and moving to another.
Most such systems also require clients to upgrade their mail systems. “Ours works with everyone’s system,” says Strange, pointing out one of the elements he says makes Centuro’s product more effective.
Artificial intelligence anti-spam software — which most users of anti-spam products probably have now — may help for a while. But eventually, spammers use AI of their own to get around the algorithms designed to spot and stop spam. “It’s a cat and mouse game,” says Strange. “The better you get at detecting it, the better they get at defeating it.”
Centuro’s system is different because it runs email through a central server farm running its spam-cleaning software. The system forwards a user’s mail to the central servers, which eliminate the spam and return your real email. The system sits between the user and his email.
“Whether it’s our system or someone else’s,” Strange says, “a centralized system will eventually be used to stop spam. It’s like the Domain Name Service.” DNS is a centralized system for preventing domain name chaos. “It’s why you pay for a domain name,” Strange says.
“I’m really surprised the big guys are not moving in this direction,” he adds.
Centuro, currently a virtual company consisting of the two founders, seeks $500,000 to ramp up sales and marketing of its software. The product costs an individual user $4.95 a month and $1.95 for each additional email users. Companies would pay a license based on the number of users it wants to protect.