Seeking the Spam Filter in the Sky

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Like everybody with an E-mail address, I've suffered in recent months from a surge in spam, that scourge of online life.

It was getting tempting to switch to a new antispam program, hoping for relief.

But don't bother, says Francis deSouza at Symantec, a leading Internet security firm.

That's the bad news. The good news: "It will get better–we're already getting a handle on the issues that emerged over the summer," says deSouza, a senior vice president of Symantec's enterprise messaging management group.

The twist is that new methods used by spammers can't be stopped on our desktops. No PC program can keep up with the new missives, most notably those buried in images that are too difficult for desktops to decipher and stop.

Instead, this battle is fast moving to higher levels, deSouza says. Internet providers and corporate IT managers must employ sophisticated tactics, such as monitoring E-mail flows and pinpointing far-flung computers that are spewing spam. Those, not coincidentally, are the tactics employed by large security firms like Symantec, whose products alone "see" about a third of the world's E-mail every day. "We've got a global network, and that's what's needed now," deSouza says. He predicts that today's market of perhaps 200 antispam providers will soon be whittled down to a few, such as Symantec, that have size and worldwide reach.

The same thing happened in the antivirus market, where the bad guys got ever trickier and eventually overwhelmed products from smaller companies. Now almost all of us get our antivirus protection from large vendors like Symantec and McAfee.

And their work has largely defanged the threat of viruses and the ilk. We don't hear of large outbreaks anymore. The same will happen with spam, despite the recent setback, deSouza says. Seems all we can do in the meanwhile is complain to our Internet providers and corporate help desks, and wait. And hope.