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Inboxes to be spam-slammed over holiday season

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Spammers are set for a Christmas bonanza this year as they take advantage of the holiday season to send out more nuisance email.

Although statistics for spam email landing in Irish inboxes won't be released until January, experts are predicting we could see a surge in the proportion of junk email that businesses need to filter out of their inboxes.

Ken O'Driscoll of monitoring firm IE Internet says holiday seasons are prime time for spammers who take advantage of the fact that most network administrators have a break over Christmas. "Spammers know it's a holiday for most of the western world," he said. "There aren't as many system administrators in organisations to monitor what's going on."

IE Internet provides a filtering service for Irish businesses. Last year, it flagged almost 39 per cent of email as unwanted junk in December. However, the rate has steadily risen since then - although a couple of months saw spam rates fall slightly in the summer - and has remained above the 40 per cent mark all year.

This means that spammers could use vulnerable systems to send on their junk email for longer than usual, as with the system administrators celebrating the festive season, there are fewer eyes watching what is going on.

December's statistics may also be somewhat skewed, O'Driscoll said, with fewer business emails being sent during the month. This would make the percentage of spam email filtered by the firm for its clients rise artificially.

However, there is definitely an increase in the amount of spam being sent out. O'Driscoll said the percentage of spam IE Internet has picked up on behalf of its clients has stayed in the 45-50 per cent range for much of the year. "Spam has definitely been increasing," he said. "This year, we went over the 50 per cent mark a number of times."

This rise is in spite of a number of moves against spammers during 2006, including better filtering processes, stronger legal measures and some high profile anti-spam prosecutions. It seems there is little else that companies can do to stem the ever-rising tide of spam, aside from keeping their security software up-to-date and their systems patched to ensure that they don't become an unwitting accomplice to spammers.

There is still some way to go before Ireland catches up with the US though - some 90 per cent of mail in the region is spam, according to O'Driscoll.

Another problem facing system administrators is the trend for sending Christmas cards electronically. While this may seem like the easiest way to pass on seasons' greetings, it can block up email systems, causing a headache for IT staff.

So while the rest of the office is off enjoying the festive season, it seems that system administrators will have their work cut out for them on their return.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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