Korea Set to Decoy Email Spammers

Kat Khan
SEOUL, Korea — The Korean government plans to crack down on email spammers by ensnaring them with decoy mail accounts, the Ministry of Information and Communication said Thursday, adding it plans to check the viability of the trap system — managing a number of email accounts to lure spammers — in coming months.

“Illegal marketers become more elusive but most recipients of the bulk mails do not report the cases to us,” ministry Director Jang Seok-Young said. “As a result, some shrewd marketers are off our radar. If cyber spam continues after March, when punishment has been strengthened, we will seek ways to phase in the trap system to crack down on it.”

The ministry is working in collaboration with its subsidiary, the Korea Information Security Agency, which tracks hackers and their behaviors through its decoy network, dubbed HoneyNet.

A total of 1,000 bait handsets also check every mobile spam and advertising call. The phones identified about 1,700 mobile spammers last month alone.

Currently, sending promotional emails en masse is not necessarily illegal as long as the content reveals its commercial intent and informs recipients of how to take themselves off the mailing list.

Violators of the current regulations — based on the opt-out formula variation — are subject to a maximum $30,857 in fines but are not criminally liable.

Starting March 31, however, things will become tougher for mass mailers. Sender of mass email could be sentenced to a year in prison.

In 2003, Korea's Internet users reportedly received about 29 spam emails daily. In 2004, that number dropped to 14 daily and in 2005 it dropped to only seven daily spam emails, thanks to various anti-spam measures taken by the MIC, including preventing emails sent by confirmed spammers and those coming from unauthentic address users from reaching recipients.

But while the government prepares to crack down on illegal marketers, the marketers are becoming more sophisticated and sometimes find convenient loopholes, Seok-Young added.

“I don't think we can reduce the number of daily spam mails to less than the current seven mails with conventional methods,” Seok-Young said. “To advance one step further, we need a new framework like the trap system.”