12 July 2004 A United Nations meeting has concluded that while there is no "silver bullet" to stop unsolicited commercial email, solutions involving legislation, technical innovation and international cooperation could eventually curb the worldwide abuse of "spam."
The meeting last week in Geneva organized by the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was designed to launch a global effort aimed at eliminating spam, which accounts for an estimated 80 per cent of all email traffic and costs the global economy some $25 million in losses each year.
In addition to strong country laws, technical solutions and international cooperation, the meeting generated consensus on the need for consumer education and industry self-regulation as part of a multi-track solution to the nuisance.
Robert Horton, Acting Chair of the Australian Communications Authority and Chairman of the meeting, said spam has grown into a major plague affecting the digital world. "We are facing a global epidemic which can only be combated through a global and concerted action," he said.
"What is at stake is no less than the protection and preservation of the Internet as we know it," he declared. "I am convinced that we can curb spam within the next two years if we act on a number of fronts simultaneously and make sure that there are no havens for spammers anywhere in the world."
Despite the enactment of anti-spam legislation in about 30 countries and the introduction of technical solutions by Internet service providers and end-users, there has been so far no significant impact on the volume of unwanted email, with spammers sending hundreds of millions of messages per day.
Increasingly, spam is being used to support fraudulent and criminal activities, including attempts to capture financial information such as account numbers and passwords by masquerading messages as originating from trusted companies, called "brand-spoofing" or "phishing." In addition, spam can be exploited as a vehicle to spread computer viruses and worms.
Mobile networks face the problem of bulk unsolicited text messages which aim to generate traffic to premium-rate numbers. As these trends transcend national boundaries, international cooperation is essential to enforce anti-spam laws, the ITU pointed out.