To stem unsolicited, unwanted e-mail, people and companies are going to extraordinary lengths -- at considerable expense.
They mask their e-mail addresses, install filters, create "white" lists of approved senders and blacklists of bulk mailers. An entire software sector has sprung up to try to defeat the spammers.
Yet in-boxes still are bursting with unsolicited offers of prescription-free Viagra, get-rich schemes and pornography.
To halt spam cold, many experts agree, requires a radical technical solution at the heart of the Internet.
So an international organization best known for creating the Internet's plumbing has decided to explore fundamental changes in its architecture that would effect a fix. This ultimately would require a global consensus -- and software updates for everybody.
The Anti-Spam Research Group holds its first physical meeting in San Francisco on Thursday. Members already have been discussing the problem over e-mail with such gusto that some participants complain they're getting more messages on anti-spam than from spammers.
The group was convened last month by the Internet Engineering Task Force, which in 1982 defined the standard known as the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, or SMTP, that still processes all e-mail today.
"SMTP was developed some 20 years ago for a totally different type of Internet, one that was very open and trusting," said Paul Judge, the research group's chairman and director of research at the e-mail security firm CipherTrust Inc. "Today, the Internet is not those two things."
The research group's work could take years, though Judge said he was hopeful that a consensus could be reached sooner.