Spam, the Dull Cyber-Headache

Sometimes studies confirm what we already know.  Electronic junk email, or spam, is annoying. According to a recent study by Barracuda Networks, Inc., a provider of firewall products, the majority of business professionals (57%) consider spam email to be the worst form of junk advertising. 

Spam email topped postal junk mail (31%) and telemarketing (21%) for this dubious distinction. The sheer volume of spam is mind-boggling.  The estimates are 60 billion to 150 billion messages a day. 

The Barracuda Networks study reports that spam email accounted for 90 to 95 percent of all email in 2007.  In 2006, the numbers were only slightly lower: 85 to 90 percent. We must candidly admit that anti-spam laws have been largely ignored. 

Most people probably don”t know that Texas has an anti-spam statute.  The federal government has one too.  Some spammers have been caught, but the sheer volume of spam has increased despite these laws.  Have you noticed any decrease in the amount of junk email in your in-box since the federal government enacted its anti-spam law in 2004?  Me neither. Aren”t we developing more sophisticated spam detection software?  Yes, but spammers are a moving target.  Spammers employed multiple techniques to hide their identity in 2007. 

The Federal Trade Commission has noted the increased use of malicious bots, a type of malware designed to infest a host computer and connect back to a central server.  These bots allow the spammer to send large volumes of spam anonymously and remotely from the host computer.  In most instances, the victims are not aware that their computer has been hijacked.  The Federal Trade Commission estimates that bots are responsible for 95% of all spam. 

We are learning to live with spam-now accepting it as an online fact-of-life.  According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in May 2007, “American internet users seem somewhat less bothered by spam than before.”  Only 18% of internet users described spam as a “big problem.”  The majority, 51%, said spam is “annoying, but not a big problem.” Spam filters, while not perfect, seem to help. 

The Pew Internet study reported that 71% of email users use filters, up from 65% two years ago.   Users have become more reluctant to reveal their email address.  44% of email users have taken steps to make it more difficult for others to find their email address. 

More people are omitting their email address from their business cards. Plenty of websites list tips for reducing the amount of your junk e-mail. Notably, few people are boycotting the internet, or their email account, because of spam email.  Instead, users tend to see spam as part of the price they pay for being on the Internet. 

Spam is like a dull cyber-headache that, although unpleasant, isn”t painful enough to keep us in bed.

Contributed by Chris Stewart. 

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