Stamp your spam as sexually explicit, or pay the fine - Sophos reports on whether new USA laws will work

April 15, 2004 Sophos Press Release

Will spammers label their hardcore messages as explicit?

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that spammers must include the warning 'SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: ' in the subject lines of their pornographic emails or face fines.

Spammers will be in violation of federal law if they do not clearly label their sexually orientated messages. However, anti-spam experts at Sophos believe that hardcore spammers will simply ignore the FTC's instructions.

"Of course it would be great if spammers clearly labelled their spam for what it is - but what's in it for them?," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Spammers have a history of disguising their email messages so they appear as innocent communications. This system is doomed to failure - if spammers would really follow such a ruling, why not tell them to label all of their messages with the subject line 'SPAM:'? That would make life easier for all of us!"

The FTC's rules follow the controversial CAN-SPAM Act and are designed to protect email recipients from being unwittingly exposed to unwanted sexual images in spam messages. The FTC has also declared that spam messages should not contain sexual images, but can include links to sites which do contain adult content.

"No-one is questioning that the FTC's intentions are entirely honourable in wanting to protect innocent people from internet filth, and it might make it easier to fine spammers who don't comply, but it is hard to believe this ruling will change the behaviour of the spamming community. Even if it did, it's difficult to imagine how it would be implemented - would there be a panel to decide whether emails offering viagra should be classified as offensive? One man's raunchy email is another's risque lingerie catalogue," continued Cluley.

The FTC ruling comes into effect from 19 May 2004. More details can be found on the FTC's website.

A recent study by Sophos revealed that the USA is the largest producer of spam in the world. Sophos recommends companies protect themselves with a consolidated solution which can defend businesses from the threats of both spam and viruses.