December 21, 2000, 2:48 PM — JUST AS THE U.S. is getting a grip on its own spam problem, China has emerged as a new source for a mass of unsolicited e-mail that is clogging up inboxes around the world.
Two types of spam are on the increase from China, according to people who track the problem. One type originates from Chinese marketers, is written in Chinese, and mainly advertises pirated software, Chinese Web sites, and electronics goods. Chinese-language spam emerged as a real issue about six months ago and has been snowballing ever since, observers say.
"This has started to get out of hand," said Steve Linford, managing director of UXN (Ultradesign), a small, London-based ISP. "We had a few Chinese spams in December, then in January it suddenly shot up, and since then it's started going haywire."
"It's a waste of time and a waste of space," said Dave Jacobs, a California software engineer. Jacobs said he's been receiving four to six Chinese spams a day in his personal inbox for the past several weeks, along with one or two English-language spams and a handful of personal e-mails.
China is also a growing source for a second type of uninvited e-mail that actually originates in the U.S., but is distributed via a host of insecure, poorly administered mail servers in China and elsewhere. Unlike the U.S., where political and end-user pressure has forced ISPs to take action against spammers, network providers in China appear unprepared -- or unwilling -- to take similar steps.
"It seems in China that the level of education and awareness about spam isn't there yet," said Nick Nicholas, head of the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), a California non-profit group that helps ISPs fight spam.
In some cases, Chinese network providers use older software that makes it easier for spammers to use their mail servers to relay spam originating from dial-up accounts in the U.S., Nicholas said. In other cases, "there are people [in China] who are happy to take money [for distributing spam] and to do it with impunity," according to Nicholas.
It's hard to know exactly how much junk mail comes from China, since identifying and measuring all the e-mail that crosses the Internet would be an impossible task. Experts are quick to note that the vast majority of spam on the Internet -- as much as 90 percent -- originates in the U.S., where most of the insecure servers used to relay spam are also located.
But as ISPs in the U.S. clamp down on spam and administrators button down networks against viruses, hackers, and other threats, experts fear that spammers will increasingly turn their attention to China and other emerging Internet nations to distribute their payload. In addition, they see the emergence of Chinese-language spam originating from what is potentially such a vast market as an ominous sign.