Spam and patents are issues to resolve now

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This month we are tackling the issue of junk mail and spam. While unsolicited advertising is annoying, it has become the CSO’s problem as HR departments face off with users who receive offensive messages, business services grind to a halt, and outright scams grow in number.

The scheduled group test of anti-spam products received such an overwhelming response that we have been forced to split it in half and run one set of products this month and the rest in July. Even so, it will be impossible to review every anti-spam product or service offered to us, but the result will be the most thorough look at mail content security products we have ever published.

Spam is also the subject of a controversial development at the US patent office. Network Associates was recently granted a patent (overly-broad, say observers) for a variety of anti-spam techniques. The patent (#6,732,157) does look broad, though it is oddly limited to email and not other messaging. Is this a bellwether of the absurd US patent system being leveraged in the security space? We are already seeing technology companies relying heavily on their patent portfolio to enforce business activities, and with the EU coming under pressure to align its patent process with the US, it is likely this will start to affect European businesses in the future, rather than being resolved in any useful way.

Small wonder that China, a fast-developing economic powerhouse with no small influence in high-tech, is turning its back on many US-developed standards (DVDs, mobile telephony and wireless networking, to name a few): they are all hedged with increasingly-hostile patents. Coupled with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to quash "circumvention", forward-compatibility and interoperability are becoming difficult to achieve without a strong intellectual property bargaining position.

Standards licensing is also important (read: "anathema") to the open source community, which has been in the news a lot lately. Computer Associates is making its Ingres database open source, Sun is interested in opening Solaris (although questions remain on how it will be licensed), HP is supporting a raft of open source projects... the list goes on.

It is also true in the security space: we speak to many consultants who rely heavily on open source tools in everyday work, and more and more readers are asking for more OSS coverage in SC Magazine. Sadly, though, development ceased this month on grsecurity, a project adding layered security to the Linux kernel, after a main sponsor unexpectedly withdrew support.

Drop a line to and tell us your views on open source security, (or patents, spam, or indeed anything security-related).

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