China joins global fight against spam

The Internet Society of China (ISC) is hoping to bring the problem of spam under control in the world’s most populous country by blocking e-mails sent from 127 servers that have been identified as sources of spam, according to a statement released by the group.

But the move, which is limited in scope, falls short of shutting off access from hundreds of servers at Chinese Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that are sources of spam in China and around the world.

Effective from Tuesday, members of the ISC, which includes Chinese government bodies, companies and ISPs, will no longer accept e-mails that have been routed through any of 127 mail servers identified last month by the group’s Anti-Spam E-Mail Coordination Team as sources of bulk unsolicited e-mail.

The list is heavily tilted towards blocking spam sent from servers in Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, and includes eight servers in China, 90 servers in Taiwan and 27 servers in other countries, including 16 in the U.S. and six in South Korea.

The ISC has been concerned for some time with the mounting problem posed by spam and actions taken by ISPs in other countries to blacklist Chinese servers that are used to distribute unsolicited e-mails.

“The Internet Society of China wants to try our best to restore normal e-mail communications with the outside world for domestic Internet users,” the group said in a statement posted on its Web.

To achieve this, the group has proposed a series of steps needed “to prevent the spread of spam and to eliminate the negative effects caused by the blocking of China’s e-mail service providers.”

The steps include calling on the government to develop stricter laws and regulations to help stop the spread of spam, encouraging Chinese ISPs to adopt anti-spam technology, educating users about spam, getting ISPs to block e-mail access for spammers, and keeping a list of e-mail providers and spammers sending unsolicited e-mail with “evil intentions.”

“If they make a push to take care of spam, it will have some success,” said Justin Mallen, chief executive officer of Silk Road Technologies, an Internet data centre in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

There are several reasons why spam, often distributed globally, has become such a problem in China. Chinese network administrators tend to be less aggressive in managing their systems than their counterparts in other countries, Mallen said. In addition, security precautions are often inadequate, allowing spammers to hijack a company’s mail server, he added.

Another problem is the sheer size of the dominant telecommunications operators, like China Telecom Corp.

“China Telecom is the primary carrier in China and Internet data centres are such a small part of their business, so they don’t pay much attention to spam,” Mallen said, noting that his company tries to be proactive in its efforts to root out spammers.

“We warn them and tell them to stop,” Mallen said. “It’s in our contracts that we don’t support that.”

The list of servers being blocked by ISC, which includes eight run by Chinese companies, falls far short of a list of Chinese ISPs that are used to distribute spam. The Spamhaus Project has identified 633 servers at 82 Chinese ISPs – including several ISC members – that currently serve as sources of spam, according to a list of ISPs posted on its Web site. The Spamhaus Project maintains a database of spam servers using technology based on Domain Name System (DNS) that can be used to help block bulk unsolicited e-mail.

The ISC’s list is also significantly shorter than a list of spam servers that it tracked between November 2002 and June of this year. During that period, a spam collection system deployed by ISC received 3.5 million spam e-mails sent from 960 servers in China, 127 servers in Hong Kong, 248 servers in Taiwan and 2,264 servers in other countries, the group said.

After meeting six times between June and August to review the list, ISC members pared the number of spam servers to 23 in China, four in Hong Kong, 97 in Taiwan and 101 in other countries, according to the group, which did not disclose the method by which the number of servers had been reduced.

The companies responsible for operating these servers were given one month, from Aug. 8, to halt the spread of spam from their servers. For companies that did not comply, ISC had threatened further measures would be taken, resulting in the effort to block access from spam servers that began on Tuesday.

Whether or not the ISC efforts to stop bulk unsolicited e-mail are successful, the group has already raised the ire of spammers. Following the publication last month of the list of 127 servers that distribute spam, the ISC sustained two continuous attempts to disrupt its own servers between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27, it said in a statement that condemned the attacks. The specific nature of the attacks, which were linked by the group to the publication of the list of servers used to send spam, was not disclosed.

“The Internet Society of China solemnly declares that there will be no vacillation in the fight to stop spam,” it said.