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Spam slowdown suggests progress in fight to protect e-mail

November 14, 2008 |  9:32 am

Your e-mail inbox may be feeling a little less cramped than usual these days, like a commuter train on a weekend morning. That's because many of the unwanted commercial messages -- also known as spam -- that normally clog it probably aren't there.

After years of trying to combat the scourge through e-mail filters, blacklists, lawsuits and criminal charges, the spam tide finally turned this week (the fascinating story was first reported by Brian Krebs of the Washington Post). Internet security firms say that the volume of unsolicited e-mail has dropped markedly, somewhere in the neighborhood of 66%, in the past few days. As Joseph Menn explains in today's L.A. Times story about the spam decline:

The surprising respite had very little to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars that corporations and consumers have spent on anti-spam software or with the lawsuits and criminal cases brought against spammers in the last decade.

Instead, a ragtag band of researchers pulled off the unprecedented coup of drastically cutting the spam volume by adopting a new strategy: going after mainstream U.S. companies that can unknowingly help spammers, identity thieves and child porn purveyors by carrying their traffic on the Internet.

Researchers don't expect the slowdown to last. But this latest success has given hope to those who fight on behalf of our inboxes. Read Menn's full story for more details about how they slowed the spammers and how the e-mail cops may try to protect us in the future.

-- Chris Gaither