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As the India-based head of antispam operations at Outblaze, which handles mail for large sites such as Mail.com and Register.com, Ramasubramanian has overseen the development of junk e-mail countermeasures for tens of millions of Internet users. Outblaze is a privately held company with headquarters in Hong Kong.
He's become such an expert on the topic that international treaty organizations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, have sought his advice. He also wrote part of a book (click here for PDF) on Internet governance published by the United Nations Development Program.
Along the way, Ramasubramanian has not shied away from debates with groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation--which has taken issue with antispam techniques like America Online's Goodmail. (One essay he wrote compares EFF's advocacy techniques to ones used by Republican political operative Karl Rove.)
CNET News.com interviewed Ramasubramanian at a United Nations Internet summit here earlier this month.
Q: You're a systems administrator and a spam fighter. What are you doing at a U.N. summit?
Ramasubramanian: I've been doing antispam for the past 10 years or so. Pretty soon, I figured out that a lot of things have to fix themselves for spam to fix itself: capacity building for people, training sys admins, training users not to click on attachments, promoting open source. That would cover the cost angle of this. Improving connectivity, so people don't suffer from the effects of spam.
There's this conference in Fiji that was videocast to a bunch of places like Samoa, the Cook Islands. There was a woman from one of the islands who was watching it via videocast (but was kicked off because of a deluge in spam saturating the connection). When you're using dial-up or a BlackBerry, the cost is still there. (The effects of spam) are much more apparent in developing countries. A huge chunk of spam comes from developing countries.
What can this United Nations process do to slow spam, if anything?
Ramasubramanian: The process by itself? Not much. The people attending this, who are exposed to new ideas? A lot.
There are people attending this from a wide variety of backgrounds. You have (nongovernmental organizations), you have regulators, you have law enforcement, you have (Internet service providers). They're all stakeholders in solving this problem. Probably the one thing is getting people in the same room and exposing them to the same ideas.
What's the single most important thing that can be done to stem the flow of spam?
Ramasubramanian: If I can get even one fraction of a percentage of e-mail users to stop clicking on attachments, and if I can get ISPs engaged in antispam mailing lists with the rest of the spam community, and if I can get some regulators listening and implementing reasonable spam (laws) and get some NGOs, that's fine.
Once Korean schools had a configuration error that turned their computers into a wide-open proxy. An open proxy is something that can be used to anonymously proxy spam.
Every single Korean school on the Internet became a magnet for spammers (click here for PDF). They did a pretty good quick emergency job in finding those servers. The Koreans fixed that. But it's an illustration of why, when you're deploying (information and communications technology) to the general public, you should make sure it's secure.