The Future of E-mail

Right now estimates are that 1 out of every 12 pieces of e-mail flying around the net is infected with the MyDoom worm, a statistic that puts the worm on track to out pace earlier infections by a wide margin.

I’ve lost track of how many of the damn things I’ve received — maybe as many as a hundred, maybe more. As one of the Uninfected (and hell, doesn’t that sound like a line from 28 Days Later?) the most annoying aspect of the plague is the pattern of bounce backs it sets up. Its already started — I’m getting messages from virus blockers which are returning messages I didn’t send (the virus forges its “from” headers, and the anti-virus screeners are too stupid to recognize the forgery) as well as bounce backs from the NY Times and other publications who’s auto-responders suffer from the same problem.

One of the solutions proposed to spam was to take e-mail to the next level, and require authenticated e-mail — meaning that every e-mail I send includes proof I am who I say I am. If that proof isn’t included, then the e-mail isn’t accepted. The up side to that is that it would greatly diminish spam (and, I suspect, virus e-mails as well) but the downside is the lose of anonymity. Now for Americans, that might not be a huge deal, but in countries where the government is far more tyrannical (like say, China) the lose of anonymity could be downright dangerous.

My personal suspicion is that we may end up with a two-tier e-mail system — on one level, you’d have the secured e-mail, which would force every message to be authenticated. And then you’d have the unsecured e-mail, which would basically be pretty much what e-mail is now only more so — a gutter overflowing with crap and a few bits of useful information. That gutter (as is the case now) will be untameable by any law and will be managed on individual computers and ISPs by spam filtering software.

You might give your public e-mail address to anyone and post it on the net, but your secured account would only be used for higher level functiosn (business, friends, etc.) Eventually, much of the important messaging will move to secure e-mail, and spam will die off because of starvation — most people simply won’t be paying attention to whats flowing around in the gutters.

So what do you think? How will e-mail evolve … and should it?