Anyone on the Internet has seen the e-mail touting low-cost mortgages, Nigerian money-laundering schemes, penis-enlargement drugs. Suresh Ramasubramanian's job is to zap them all. He's the anti-spam expert at Hong Kong-based Outblaze, which filters more than 65 million e-mail messages on a daily basis for customers in the U.S. and worldwide. The vast majority of them are junk -- but the problem is just growing worse. "It has gotten more entrenched," says Ramasubramanian grimly. He says that from 80% to 90% of e-mail is junk.
In Asia, home to some of the world's most dedicated spammers, this young Indian is in the forefront of the effort to control the problem. The 26-year-old native of Madras is the founder of the Indian chapter of the global anti-spam organization, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUSE), which he launched in 1998. "I saw my mailbox being overrun by junk," he explains. "I wanted to do something about it."
He and other junk fighters have their work cut out for them. The enemy is getting more sophisticated. Ramasubramanian says many spammers are now using high-speed connections to start "spam factories" run by big-time mailers who process huge volumes of junk. And while Internet service providers (ISPs) in the West are doing their best to limit the spammers' activity, the junk mailers often just move their business to data centers in Asia or other parts of the world where awareness isn't as great and regulations are not as strong. "You get just as good hosting in Hong Kong or China as you do in the States," he explains.
HIDDEN COSTS. While some people might argue that junk e-mail is a victimless crime, Ramasubramanian obviously disagrees. "Spam is basically transference of cost. It transfers the costs to others who haven't asked for it: the spammers' ISPs, the recipients' ISPs, the recipients. You can't really quantify the cost of spam. There are lots of costs hidden all over the place."
Ramasubramanian has devised a host of techniques to deter spammers. One favorite way to identify and then eliminate spam is to create bogus e-mail addresses and wait for the spammers to send messages to it. Once these traps identify the spammer, he can block any more e-mail from that source.
"If you want to catch flies, you lay out fly paper," he says. "If you want to catch spammers, you lay out spam traps." The flies are circling, and Ramasubramanian is determined to swat them. By Bruce Einhorn in Hong Kong