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Yahoo 'Domain Keys'

Yahoo this week announced they're working on an open-source software that uses public key cryptography to digitally sign e-mail and verify its origins. Dubbed "DomainKeys", the project is getting some air-time (Security Pipeline, Reuters, New Scientist) - the launch date is vague, sometime in 2004, and the software will be compatible with Sendmail, qmail and postfix. E-mail passing through blessed servers will be tagged with a cryptographic signature as it passes through the mail server. Email clients or en-route mail servers can then check the e-mail's header, and compare it to a public key shared via DNS zonefiles to confirm authenticity, presumably dropping the message if something is wrong. 

Brad Garlinghouse, VP of communication products at Yahoo, says the project is part of a larger push. He argues that once "we actually have credibility and confidence that the E-mail that said it came from actually did come from, we then can use other intelligence and filters ... so that an individual user can, with confidence and effectiveness, determine what actually ends up in his or her in-box." 

"What we're proposing here is to re-engineer the way the internet works with regard to the authentication of e-mail," said Garlinghouse to Reuters. 

"So What?" came the response from technology websites and bloggers in unison for much of the week. wonders if there's more meat to the idea hidden somewhere in the wings: "By itself, this will do nothing to authenticate users or cut down on spam. It will simply increase the average entropy of messages being transmitted across the Internet.". 

I'm not sure about the criticism that this initiative will do "nothing" to reduce spam: once you have a system for tagging messages and checking authenticity upon receipt, the next step (blessed lists of domains allowed to send one email) becomes possible. The worldwide email system slowly morphs to become like a huge VPN, with checkpoints to get on. 

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