Antispam bill: Savior or toothless wonder?

We now have a national "do not call" list to protect us from those loathsome telemarketing calls at dinnertime. A "do not spam" law, to protect us from those loathsome round-the-clock junk e-mails, may not be far behind, if President Bush signs the bill that Congress passed this week.

But are we really getting what's advertised here?

Proponents of the legislation say the law will help users take back their inboxes from spammers, who would be prohibited from disguising their identities through spoofed return addresses and deceptive subject lines. It would also push the Federal Trade Commission to create a national "do not spam" list modeled after the "do not call" list that consumers have rushed to sign up for.

Despite penalties that include up to five years in prison, the law really has the potential to be a toothless wonder. Telephone marketers are generally reputable businesses that can be tracked down fairly easily if they continue to make unwanted calls after they've been told to stop. The main culprits of the spam revolution, however, are sleazy operations that use technology to stay one step ahead of the law.

Congress -- and the president, if he signs the bill, as expected -- should get some political capital out of at least trying to end the spam menace. Stiffer penalties and help from Internet service providers in tracking down unscrupulous mass mailers might help. But for enterprises trying to clear away this impediment to conducting business, an antispam law won't be much more helpful than the current generation of spam filters.

The beginning of the end

This week, Microsoft announced that its plan to retire several popular software products as part of its settlement of a lawsuit with Sun Microsystems over Java will be delayed for a short time. Instead of dropping the hammer on Windows 98, SQL Server 7 and other products next week, Microsoft will stop selling them through its sales channels Dec. 23.

In other product news, Microsoft is expected to release its Windows XP Service Pack 2 beta next week, CRN has reported. A final version of the service pack should be delivered in the first half of next year. Microsoft is building several new security features into SP2, as well as improving its patch management capabilities.

December was supposed to be the first patch-free month since Microsoft adopted its monthly security alerts. That pledge was short-lived. A patch for FrontPage that was inadvertently issued Tuesday night left Microsoft executives scratching their heads. There was indeed a flaw in FrontPage, but it was fixed with a patch that was issued in November.

It may be a moot point. A patch for another product may be urgently needed.

Antivirus software maker Symantec Corp. said this week that a new hole has been discovered in Windows Messenger Service that has the potential to be more devastating than January's Slammer worm. A buffer overflow vulnerability in the Windows utility could mean that a single packet containing malicious code could allow a worm to race across a network with breathtaking efficiency.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Congress approves first national antispam legislation

Microsoft clarifies intentions to retire products

Microsoft preps Windows XP Service Pack 2

Mystery patch blots Microsoft's fix-free month

New flaw found in Windows Messenger Service

Dig deeper on Windows Operating System Management

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