Microsoft Limits Free Email

According to Ferris Research Inc., unsolicited commercial email - spam - cost U.S. firms $8.9 billion last year in productivity, storage and other expenses. This year, organizations in the United States are on track to spend more than $10 billion combating spam. Can anyone stop the madness?

Microsoft has taken a step in what some say is the right direction, reducing the maximum number of emails its Hotmail users are allowed to send within 24 hours to 100. As a result, some users who send a lot of email through Hotmail are now receiving messages that they have sent "the maximum number of messages in a 24 hour period."

Microsoft's MSN division hopes the limit will stop people from using Hotmail to send spam. Lisa Gurry, MSN lead product manager, said, "MSN is strongly committed to helping stop the widespread problem of spam and this change is one way we are preventing spammers from using Hotmail as a vehicle to send the unwanted emails."

According to company officials, the 100-email limit is a reasonable cap that would affect less than 1% of its active subscriber base of 110 million. The new restriction does not apply to MSN 8 subscribers or those who purchase extra storage on Hotmail.

Earlier this year, Microsoft adopted another restriction to the offering that prevents users from sending mail to more than 50 different addresses at a time. The company also maintains an internal "blocklist" of known spammers and has turned to the courts to help it track down offenders. Microsoft already employs the services of San Francisco-based anti-spam software vendor Brightmail to help protect users. Brightmail says that nearly 2 out of every 5 email sent over the Internet are spam.

Unfortunately, federal law has not dealt with spam, though both legislators and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are attempting to develop proposals for managing and regulating it. Since the legislature is slow to solve the spam problem, software developers are moving ahead alone.

According to research firm Meta Group, we'll soon see moves by major vendors in integrating corporate anti-spam defenses with virus killers -- by the end of next year the leading antivirus vendors will offer comprehensive anti-spam software through acquisition or integration, says Meta Group's Peter Firstbrook, a senior research analyst with the firm's security and risk-strategies service.

Already, a new version of Symantec's gateway antivirus product, released yesterday, adds features that will block spam. The new antispam features are included in version 3.1 of AntiVirus for SMTP Gateways, an email security product targeted at large enterprises that relies on a multilayered approach to fighting the spam problem, Symantec said. The new antispam features are a heuristic scanning engine that spots spam messages, supports checking against multiple blacklists of known spammers, and filters by subject-line.

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