SAN JOSE, Calif. - To stem the unrelenting tidal wave of unsolicited, unwanted email, people and companies are going to extraordinary lengths — at considerable expense.
They mask their e-mail addresses, install filters, create white lists of approved senders and blacklists of bulk mailers. An entire software sector has sprung up to try to defeat the spammers.
Yet inboxes are still bursting with unsolicited offers of prescription-free Viagra, get-rich schemes and pornography.
To halt spam cold, many experts agree, requires a radical technical solution at the heart of the Internet.
So an international organization best known for creating the Internet’s plumbing has decided to explore fundamental changes in its architecture that would effect a fix. This would ultimately require a global consensus — and software updates for everybody.
The Anti-Spam Research Group holds its first physical meeting in San Francisco next Thursday. Members have already been discussing the problem over e-mail with such gusto that some participants complain they’re getting more messages on anti-spam than from spammers.
The group was convened last month by the Internet Engineering Task Force, which in 1982 defined the standard known as the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, or SMTP, that still process all e-mail today.
‘‘SMTP was developed some 20 years ago for a totally different type of Internet, one that was very open and trusting,’’ said Paul Judge, the research group’s chairman and director of research at the e-mail security firm CipherTrust Inc. ‘‘Today, the Internet is not those two things.’’
Jupiter Research estimates the average e-mail account received 2,200 spam messages last year. The antispam firm Brightmail Inc. estimates nearly 40 percent of all Internet e-mail is unwanted, an increase of 8 percent from 2001.
Dozens of companies — Brightmail, Mirapoint Inc., Postini Inc. and others — try to block spam before it reaches users’ inboxes. Products from Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer In c. try to filter out unwanted spam after it has arrived. And at least 26 states have passed laws attempting to control spam but there is no federal regulation beyond anti-fraud rules from the Federal Trade Commission.
Still, many users find themselves continually exasperated, hitting the ‘‘delete’’ button time and time again.
Suggestions posed in the research group’s mailing list range from replacing SMTP to adjusting other Internet standards in order to stymie unsolicited mass-mailings.
Some experts advocate changes that would demand the identity of every mailer or an alternative mail system altogether that involves trusted, verified senders. And some have gone as far as to suggest requiring paid postage.
The ideal solution would stop spam as close to the source as possible to limit its impact on the network, Judge said.