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Thursday, June 08, 2006

E-mail 2.0

To paraphrase that old adage about the weather, everyone complains about e-mail, but no one ever does anything about it. E-mail has become a technology that we couldn't live without in our business and personal lives... yet it's rife with spam, viruses and fraud. In fact, one estimate places the amount of spam at 90% of all e-mail traffic!

In response, Kelly Martin of SecurityFocus makes the modest proposal that the backbone of our e-mail system, Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP), is fundamentally broken and should be scrapped. Designed to be used by a handful of engineers and geeks, SMTP was excellent at what it was designed for -- and is, indeed, the reason why e-mail has evolved into such a successful medium. But it wasn't designed for security or accountability, and patchwork attempts to make it so can't keep up with the threats.

To that end, Martin proposes developing a new e-mail system that incorporates a high level of security (encryption, compression, secure identities and public-private-key authentication), along with peer-to-peer instant messaging and videoconferencing. The system would be open, of course -- and there, Martin is realistic about the difficulty in getting the various commercial e-mailers to adopt it.

Similar proposals have been made before and have gone nowhere, in part because the existing e-mail system is so firmly entrenched. Yet the demand and the know-how is there. The open source community could rally resources and expertise just as it did to create Linux, and enterprises and commercial operators would certainly welcome a spam-free protocol. Perhaps what's needed is a spark of some kind, whether from a handful of determined developers, an innovative company, or a government body.

Source: The Register