Spam: Understanding and mitigating the challenges faced by emerging internet economies

6 May 2016 11:00h

Event report

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The session, moderated by Ms Christine Runnegar (Director, Security and Privacy Policy, Internet Society (ISOC)), discussed spam-related challenges faced by emerging economies and possible solutions and approaches to addressing such challenges. Runnegar underlined that spam has become a complex issue, as it is more and more associated with malicious content. Emerging economies may not have enough technical, human, and financial resources to fight it.

Dr Kemal Huseinovic (Chief, Department of Infrastructure, Enabling Environment and E-Applications, BDT) noted that, according to the latest statistics for 2015, more than half of the overall inbound business email traffic was spam. He spoke about the joint ITU-ISOC efforts aimed at assisting countries to respond to spam-related challenges (such as advice on policy approaches and technical solutions, facilitation of information exchanges, and sharing of best practices).

Mr Eliot Lear (Co-rapporteur, ITU-D Study Group 2 Question 3) mentioned that the volume of spam is a critical issue in developing countries, especially where there is limited bandwidth. He also spoke about modalities to break the vicious cycle of spam generation: spam filtering, intrusion detection, antiviruses and patches, and user education. Mr Evert Jan Hummelen (London Action Plan) made reference to three main areas emerging economies need to work on to combat spam: legislation (with clear rules in place), staff (with technical and legal expertise), and tools. In reaction, Mr Stephen Bureaux (Director of Policy and Regulation, Utilities and Competition Authority, Bahamas) noted that, when broadband becomes available in emerging economies, it is difficult to make stakeholders in the public and private sector focus on problems such as spam; they need to be made more aware of the risks associated with spam and of the need to address them. A representative of Spamhaus further explained that, when a country gets affordable broadband, the average spam infection rates grow rapidly. This is because, while more people get connected, they are not equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools to protect themselves from spam. At the same time, ISPs and network providers are often not properly equipped to deal with the fast growth of their customer base. Ms Rahayu Azlina Ahmad (CyberSecurity, Malaysia) spoke about the need to educate the public (individual end users, companies, and public entities) on the risks associated with spam, as well as on modalities to avoid such risks. She also underlined the need to enhance cooperation between the various stakeholders involved in mitigating spam and to ensure that their actions converged.

During the Q&A, further challenges related to combating spam were raised: the fact that, in developing countries especially, people are still using legacy devices and operating systems, which might not benefit from cybersecurity support from the manufacturers; the lack of awareness and education causing people not only to ‘click on everything’, but also to look for free Internet security solutions that turn out to cause more harm; the borderless nature of spam and the need to ensure that the anti-spam legislation contains provisions that allow countries to ask for assistance from one another and to exchange information. Having a proper legislation in place is not enough; ensuring that such legislation can be effectively and efficiently implemented is also key. In addition, building the capacity of law enforcement agencies and judges to understand issues such as technical evidence is another important aspect to consider when tackling spam.

In conclusion, it was underlined that digital economies offer numerous opportunities for growth and development; however, without trust, it would be difficult to take advantage of such opportunities. Through fighting spam, we can contribute to building trust and realise the potential of the digital economy. 

by Sorina Teleanu