National | Technology

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

Posting bond

MICROSOFT IS SIGNING ON TO A NEW EXPERIMENT in fighting spam. The company licensed a new e-mail filtering tool that approves commercial messages from legitimate marketers. To get an OK, a company must post a bond guaranteeing that it won't send unwanted messages.

The Bonded Sender service, built by a little-known company called IronPort Systems, claims to solve a common side effect: Filters are often blind to context, trashing useful messages as spam and failing to distinguish reputable companies from fly-by-night operators or con artists.

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Instead of a blacklist of bad senders, Bonded Sender offers a list of marketers who promise to behave themselves. Those listed must "demonstrate a history of good sending behavior derived from recipient feedback," according to IronPort. Bonds start at $250 for nonprofits and go up to $4,000 and up for large commercial senders; an additional license fee ranges from $500 to $10,000 per month.

The creators say that the bond does not give marketers carte blanche to send e-mail. If complaints become frequent, IronPort deducts money from the bond ($20 per complaint) and gives it to an anti-spam group. In Microsoft's case, an IronPort-bonded company's message is more likely, but not guaranteed, to reach MSN and Hotmail users-because messages must still pass through the company's own spam filter.

Worldwide worm

THE SASSER WORM GAVE THE WORLD A BRIEF JOLT and left a message: Update your software. It caused some sensational problems in just a few days of widespread activity.

Sasser first appeared on May 1, exploiting a Windows XP flaw, then spread voraciously for several days before subsiding. Victims included the British coast guard, Hong Kong hospitals, and the Taiwanese postal system.

Numerous individuals and businesses were forced to deal with infected PCs that crashed and rebooted. Microsoft issued a security patch that fixes XP, but many never installed it.

Sasser is particularly annoying because it does not come through infected software or e-mails. Instead, it trolls through networks looking for vulnerable connections. It causes no permanent damage, however, except for lost time and repair effort.

Security experts predict that Sasser will still move from computer to computer for some time. Copycats may try to create variant versions of the worm, hoping to create more trouble. Someone could even try to "mate" Sasser with code from another bug to create a "child" that might be harder to fight.


Intel abruptly announced major plans to overhaul its line of PC microchips. The planned next-generation Pentium 4 model and a new high-end chip, code-named Jayhawk, were both scrapped-in favor of a new dual-core technology (that merges the computing power of two conventional processors into one). The first of the new CPUs will probably debut sometime next year.

A federal judge fined a Connecticut woman $6,000 in one of the first judgments of the music industry's numerous anti-piracy lawsuits. The woman, who said she didn't know she was doing anything wrong when she downloaded copyrighted music, never accepted a copy of the suit and failed to show up at a court hearing.

Adidas boasts the world's first "smart shoe," which contains a battery-powered microchip that adjusts the heel cushion as the wearer takes steps. The "1" shoe uses an electric sensor and magnet to detect motion, plus a tiny screw and cable to make the tweaks. The company claims these $250 sneakers will revolutionize distance running and training.

Identity thieves sent a record 3.1 million e-mails last month, according to research commissioned by Brightmail, an anti-spam company. These fraudulent "phishing" messages try to coax recipients into revealing their credit-card numbers, bank-account details, and other information. The company claims Americans lose up to $12 billion per year from e-mail fraud and related scams.


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