At the RSA Conference 2004 Internet security conference in San Francisco yesterday, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates outlined his company's plans to work with large email partners to eliminate spam. Gates said Microsoft will give those partners free technology that will emulate the caller ID functionality in today's telephone systems and prevent spammers from hiding their identities and forwarding mail through anonymous sources. The plan, which involves backers such as Amazon.com, Brightmail, and Sendmail and calls for a global registry of legitimate Internet email sources, might have to compete with similar but less sophisticated initiatives in the works at Yahoo! and AOL. Microsoft correctly notes, however, that for the scheme to work, a large number of email providers must adopt it.

Microsoft's antispam effort, the Coordinated Spam Reduction Initiative (CSRI), will include numerous policies and technologies that the company will use to curb the spam threat. Microsoft is working to establish standards that will help legitimate email senders differentiate themselves from spammers, developing new email filters, and working on a micropayment system that would make spam financially ineffective. "Spam is our email customers' number-one complaint today, and Microsoft is innovating on many different fronts to eradicate it," Gates said. "We believe that Caller ID for E-Mail and the Coordinated Spam Reduction Initiative will help change the economic model for sending spam and put spammers out of business."

Ryan Hamlin, general manager for Microsoft's Anti-Spam Technology and Strategy Group, describes caller ID as a mechanism that legitimate senders of email can use to help ensure that spammers aren't abusing their Internet domains. "In a nutshell, caller ID involves two key steps," he said. "One, senders of email publish the IP addresses of their outgoing mail servers in DNS in an email-policy document. Two, the email software at the receiving end of a message queries DNS for the email policy and determines the 'purported responsible domain' of the message. This is done by comparing the information in DNS to ensure it matches the information on the originating mail. We believe this technical solution gets at the root of the spam problem by helping to confirm legitimate senders."

By this summer, Microsoft will roll out a beta version of Caller ID for E-Mail in MSN Hotmail to test its effectiveness. Hotmail currently serves more than 150 million active email users and is the most-used email service on the planet. Microsoft will also work with partners to ensure that the system is in place on as many email ISPs as possible and help develop a compliance program. The company is also working on viable-identification alternatives for smaller email senders and says it will continue to work on other antispam technologies, including challenge-response systems, machine learning, micropayments, and safelists