spam has a rather innocuous and interesting background. The name comes from the Monty Python comedy sketch in which a group of Vikings in a restaurant start singing "Spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!" They annoy the waiter who tells them to shut up. The interpretation of the 'action' rather than the meaning of the word itself refers to a repetitive act that annoys. In terms of online communication, this annoyance has developed into a crisis, which has powerful consequences for business in particular. The European Commission recently stated that the problem costs £6.4bn a year in connection charges and lost productivity - the equivalent of £16 per Internet user.
Concern about spam and the affect spam is having on the Internet has reached critical proportions. The general concern about combating the increase in e-mail abuse can be seen in the outpouring of articles on the subject on the Web. Another indication of the seriousness of the situation is the involvement of major players such as AOL and Microsoft and various professional working groups in the search for a solution to control the problem of spam. The use of new legislation in attempts to dissuade spammers has also increased over the past year. A further problem that is becoming more evident every day is the threat that spam poses to the dominance of email as a mode of communication and business transactions. There are a number of pundits who are stating that the avalanche of spam is becoming so overwhelming that it is threatening the viability of email. Some companies state that they are spending more time in opening and deleting spam mail than is feasible in a normal working and business environment.
However, some claim that spam is to be expected and is a natural consequence of the open environment of the Internet and cannot be avoided.
Spam can no longer be categorized as a mere 'side affect' that obstructs the flow of information over the Internet. Spam affects even the most ordinary of Net-users; including those who visit sites that require them to register or fill-in forms, and find that the flow of spam to their mailboxes increases on a daily basis." (Smith)
One hardly has to look far to find statistics and reports of the seriousness of the problem. Recently AOL blocked a billion e-mails in 24 hours. (New world record: AOL blocks a billion spam e-mails in 24 hours) Most of these were offering inducements about mortgages and explicit sexually related topics. AOL reports that about 10% of the messages originated from Microsoft's hotmail service. An average of 28 junk e-mails is blocked daily per e-mail account by AOL. Predictions made last year by many pundits that more than eighty percent of received e-mail would be spam, is coming true.
Statistics about spam are increasingly alarming. Sophos, a company specializing in protecting businesses against spam and viruses, has published a report of the countries from which spam messages originate. The information they supply provides an insightful overview of the international spam distribution.
The United States is far and away the worst offender, accounting for nearly 60% of the world's spam. Even though European countries are responsible for less spam, they are still generating millions of junk emails a day," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "Spam is a global problem, and countries worldwide are starting to take the issue more seriously." (Sophos outs 'dirty dozen' spam producing countries)
Spam is also a multi-level problem and it also includes the transfer of viruses and the relation of this to privacy and intrusion issues.
Our intelligence suggests that a large amount of spam originates in Russia, even though it appears at only number 28 in the chart. Hackers appear to be breaking into computers in other countries and sending out spam via 'infected' PCs," continued Cluley. "Some Trojan horses and worms allow spammers to take over third-party computers belonging to innocent parties, and use them for sending spam. More than 30% of the world's spam is sent from these compromised computers, underlining the need for a coordinated approach to spam and viruses." (ibid)
The cost of spam to businesses has also become a serious problem, particularly in the corporate sectors where it is definitely affecting e-mail as an effective business tool. It was estimated towards the end of 2003 that about 40% of all e-mail traffic in the U.S. is made up of spam. (Kotadia, M) This figure has increased considerably during the past year. Researchers expect that this figure will be closer to 60% by the end of 2004. The problem for business is that many rely on e-mail as a legitimate medium to promote their products and reach clients.
The proliferation of spam has resulted in a "degradation of the medium." In other words, the value and trust in e-mail as an effective business tool has been put into doubt by the overflow of unsolicited spam, resulting in a threat to the very existence of e-mail as a communication and marketing tool on the Internet." (Smith)
Not only does spam incur costs for businesses and ISP's - an estimated $500-million to U.S. And European service providers (IWANIW) It also has other ramifications, including reductions in staff productivity, amongst others. Another equally worrying side effect of spam is the increased danger from viruses and scams. The famous "Nigerian Scam "or 419 (http://home.rica.net/alphae/419coal/)was the fastest growing threat of its type last year and is still claiming victims. As Paul Festa of CNET NEWS states,
Spam may not kill trees, but its opponents argue that junk e-mail is swallowing up oceans of people's time and corporate profits. As an early spam outbreak marked its 10th anniversary this week, one analyst estimated that dealing with spam cost the world $20 billion in information technology spending and lost productivity on a yearly basis. (Feste, P)
The seriousness of this threat has been recognized by major Internet companies and even by national governments. The French government for example, has voted to ban unsolicited e-mail sales messages. Many other counties are also considering similar legislation, even in the face of intense debate about Internet privacy.
Legislation and Spam
Spam has become the number one enemy of business on the Internet and a number of laws have been passed in an effort to deter spammers. It is debatable whether these have to date been successful. Large companies have also instigated legal actions on a large scale against known spammers. The Can Spam Act l was promulgated in January of this year.
The CAN-SPAM Act, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, basically establishes guidelines for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to thwart those unwanted e-mails. Specifically, the new law promises to: prohibit fake or misleading e-mail headers; require an "opt-out" button to block future mailings; demand that the subject line identify sexually explicit e-mails; forbid "harvesting" e-addresses in bulk from the Internet; and fine the most offensive spammers - or jail them for up to five years. (Walcott, J.)
However, this Act has been widely criticized as not been sufficient to combat spam.
Critics of the CAN-SPAM Act say it's not tough enough, as the law doesn't actually make it illegal to send spam. And although it introduces consistency among the 50 states, many are miffed that the federal law supercedes state laws, some of which are more stringent. Other critics say that the types of people who send spam are not inclined to follow the law. Or they will evade the law by moving to an offshore location. (ibid)
Others are of the opinion that legal aspects should be combined with other spam fighting measures such as anti-spam filters as well as education. Many large corporations and companies have tried legal actions against spammers to stop the avalanche of spam.
Four of the largest internet providers in the U.S. announced they have filed six lawsuits against hundreds of spammers. Microsoft, AOL, Earthlink and Yahoo are joining forces to fight the millions of junk e-mails sent out every day. The companies said the defendants include some of the nation's "biggest" and "baddest" large-scale spammers. The actions are believed to be the first major industry lawsuits under new anti-spam legislation passed in the U.S. earlier this year.
US net providers pursue spammers)
While Internet privacy is still a contentious topic with most users strongly opposed to any sort of Internet restrictions, a recent Harris Poll indicates that most users would be more than happy to see legislation when it comes to spam. The annoyance level is definitely up with 80% of those interviewed stating that they were "very annoyed" by spam mail, compared to forty-nine percent of respondents two years ago. More than 74% of the respondents to the poll were for banning spam. (Olsen, J.) This is a direct reflection of the critical situation with the increase in spam being compounded every day. Recently Brightwell, an e-mail filtering company, revealed some interesting…