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September 30, 1998

ERIC ALLMAN OUTLINES NEW SPAM-DEFENSE IN SENDMAIL

By CBR Staff Writer

Eric Allman, author of the sendmail program that keeps most of the internet’s mail servers on the air, has outlined new spam- busting features in the first professional edition of the application. Allman formed Sendmail Inc earlier this year to provide services and support to the free versions of sendmail and to develop commercial versions with extra bells and whistles. Among those, it turns out, is an access database able to filter suspected unsolicited commercial email (UCE) or spam by recognizing certain identifying marks. Both versions of sendmail can filter spam based on message headers but Sendmail Pro can also analyze the body of an email message to see whether it conforms to known patterns of spam. Sendmail Pro is still in beta but a launch date is expected early next year. Allman also talked more generally about the technical, legal and ethical difficulties of handling spam. He agrees, for example, that it’s possible to filter potentially pornographic material by screening for words like breast. The trouble is that doing so will also censor legitimate mail which refers to breast cancer, for example. I’m not sure I am comfortable letting someone else have that level of control over what I see, he said, it’s like holding someone’s hand when they cross the street. It’s appropriate if that person is three years old, but I am not three. In general, Allman said, it is better for filters to let a small amount of spam through to the end user than to run the risk of even one legitimate piece of mail ending up on the server room floor.

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