The fight against unwanted spam email is intensifying, as three major internet companies, AOL Microsoft and Yahoo have created a new partnership to help battle the problem as a united front.

In an announcement today, the companies said they plan to spearhead a larger effort that will bring together other affected companies to share resources, technologies and strategies in the search for improved anti-spam methods.

"We are making a declarative and timely statement for the industry" to fight what's become "an explosion of spam in the last several months", said Nicholas Graham, a spokesman for AOL, which is the nation's largest internet access provider. "We realise we can do much more by working together as team mates than by working as competitors."

"Clearly, the internet quality of life is deteriorating before our very eyes due to the fraudulent methods of spammers," Graham said. "We're taking a first step and making a statement."

He cited a gathering storm of spam email, saying the problem is growing worse by the day.

"Over the past few months, spammers have really changed the rules and accelerated their mailings and methods," Graham said. "It became clear that we had to take action. We have to do something to restore faith (in email use)."

By teaming together, the three companies say they hope to initiate open dialogue that will include organisations across the industry to drive technical standards and industry guidelines that can be adopted, regardless of platform. The process will be open and other companies, and groups will be encouraged to participate, Graham said.

The group has laid out four initial goals, including protecting consumers from receiving junk mail by preventing spammers from falsifying sender's email headers, and halting incoming email from systems determined to be vulnerable to unauthorised use through open relays, open routers or open proxies.

Another strategy will be to try and prevent the use of email services, such as Yahoo, AOL and MSN, to send spam to large numbers of recipients, they said. That effort will concentrate on eliminating spammers' ability to create fraudulent email accounts in bulk and other methods.

The group also backs the creation and adoption of standards that would help differentiate legitimate business email from unwanted spam and the enforcement of applicable and new laws to make spammers more accountable for their actions.

AOL has already announced its own program to intensify its internal anti-spam efforts, such as adding a Report spam button to its email client. Many new initiatives will be incorporated into its AOL 8.0 software released here in May.