Tuesday 5 December 2006

"Challenge/response filters have more Achilles' heels than they have feet"

I am such a media whore. That was your humble blogger, quoted in an InformationWeek article:

Spam Filtering Floods Innocent Inboxes
Do challenge/response spam filtering systems create more problems than they solve? One analyst argues against them.
By Thomas Claburn

Two weeks ago, Ferris Research messaging analyst Richi Jennings awoke to find his e-mail inbox filling with spam at a rate of about a message per second. Over the course of two days, a spammer using a bot net -- a collection of PCs that have been subverted through security exploits to send spam -- sent an estimated 10 million messages that purported to come from several of Jennings's e-mail addresses.

That resulted in more than 25,000 bounce messages, from ISPs that return spam to the supposed sender (rather than deleting it) and from challenge/response filters that reply to spam with a note asking the listed sender to answer a challenge question before the initial message gets delivered.
Despite the fact the Symantec's Brightmail service did "an impressively good job" in blocking most of the bounced e-mails, Jennings nonetheless had to deal with hundreds of unwanted messages.
"Over the last year or two, I've spoken to countless challenge/response filter vendors and they all have their own excuse about why their solution is completely different, and really, yes, they agree this is a problem with badly written challenge/response spam filters, but their spam filter would never do anything so stupid and broken," says Jennings. "And of course I'm looking at an example from just about every one of those vendors that I got two weeks ago."
Tal Golan, CTO, president, and founder of Sendio, maker of a challenge/response e-mail appliance used by more than 150 enterprise consumers, disagrees strongly with Jennings's assertion that challenge-based filtering has problems. "Without question, the benefit to the whole community at large drastically outweighs that FUD [fear, uncertainty, and doubt] that's out there in the marketplace that somehow challenge/response makes the problem worse," he says. "The real issue is that filters don't work. From our perspective, challenge/response is the only solution. This whole concept of backscatter is just not true. Very, very rarely do spammers forge the e-mail addresses of legitimate companies anymore."

[Read the full article]

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