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The next step in data security

Is it our imagination, or was there once a time when life existed without unsolicited exhortations to visit bestiality web sites?

Spam is fast becoming the battle cry de nos jours - the biggest Internet rallying point since the last big Internet rallying point (take your pick from intrusive ads, intrusive filters, intrusive governments).

The perception for most is of exponential growth in spam, even for those of us without Hotmail accounts - were you getting Korean-language spams, say, a year ago? This is supported by a blizzard of surveys. It's getting to the stage when email as we know it will collapse under the weight of unsolicited, err, email.

So says Eric Allman, the founder of Sendmail. And so says the Sunday Times which this week begins a campaign to wipe the scourge of spam from the face of the earth. Just like smallpox. The European Union has also banned spam, not that this will have much effect on our inboxes when the law is enacted. According to most estimates, the overwhelming mass of spam is sent by just 100-150 merchants. These guys, mostly from the US, ain't going to fold just because the EU says so.

The rising tide of Anti-Spam is reinforced by the security software companies, which know a good bandwagon when they see one.

Latest bandwagon jumper is Symantec, with a survey of 1,000 consumers and their attitude to spam, and a spam filter to flog (Norton Spam Alert, part of home software package Norton Internet Security 2003).

Guess what, they don't like it up'em. Spam is a "growing problem at home and work and is considered offensive, time-consuming, and difficult to control".

Thirty seven per cent of the respondents report receiving more than 100 spam emails a week at home and at work, while 63 per cent receive more than 50 spam messages a week. Around three-quarters (77 per cent) of those with children expressed various degrees of concern about their children reading spam; everyone just about say it places a burden on their time, with a quarter (24 per cent) saying that they take more than 20 minutes a day dealing with spam.

Come on guys, 20 minutes? Are you reading this stuff too (I am writing as someone who gets somewhere between 50-100 spams a day - and that's not including unsolicited press releases)?

The four biggest gripes about spam are: pornographic or otherwise inappropriate content; waste of time and waste of PC resource, which may sometimes be limited; and it's difficult to unsubscribe to (do NOT try to do this) or block, and it is unsolicited and unwanted.

So what is to be done? Karl Kreuger, of the SANS Institute, has written a good summary of the Spam Battle, complete with some commonsense advice, for "security-minded mail system administrators".

So not too practical for consumers, then. Aside from implementing spam filters and never, never replying to spam, punters need their ISPs to take a much more active stance against email. A few high-profile prosecutions would not come amiss either. ®

Related stories

Where the heck is all this spam coming from?
MSN Messenger is the new spam vector
Anti-spam filters kill legitimate email
Climbing Spam Mountain
Porn spam on the rise
Europe bans spam
BTo anti-spam move kills its users' mail servers
Privacy self-defence packages go down a bundle
BTo signs Brightmail to fight junk mail

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