From the Editor-in-chief

Damn Spam!

Spam has been a nuisance for years, but recently it has reached epidemic proportions. From all accounts the daily dose of body-distorting, pill-pushing, porno-promoting garbage has soared in the last twelve months. Spam sometimes carries dangerous computer viruses and, given current estimates that 30 to 50 per cent of all e-mail on the Internet is now spam, there’s a significant cost in bandwidth and processing power for ISPs and businesses.

Then there’s lost productivity. There’s time spent checking filtered mail for legitimate items – in our business we expect to get lots of mail from people we don’t know, so we can’t filter as aggressively as we’d like — and time spent recognizing and deleting the ones that made it into the inbox. And for some of us, there’s the time we spend impotently railing, mentally, at the curse that is spam.

If nobody responded to spam, it would simply go away. But the demoralizing truth is that spam continues to thrive because it works. There are enough people responding to offers of phoney university degrees and herbal aphrodisiacs to fuel the whole sickening industry. That Nigerian thing…it’s expected to gross US$2 billion in 2003 making it that country’s second-largest industry, according to security vendor MessageLabs Ltd.

And do you think people actually buy those pitches for male anatomy enhancement pills? You bet. Reported recently on New Hampshire Public Radio, a New Hampshire-based firm, Amazing Internet Products, accidentally exposed its order log online. It showed that over a period of four weeks, 6,000 people paid US$50 for a bottle of the herbal supplement Pinacle. And it showed that gullibility is alive and well among a broad cross-section of society, for among the 6,000 were at least two company presidents, a mutual fund manager, a restaurateur and a veterinarian.

Just ignoring spam is no solution. Just deleting it won’t remain a viable option for long. We’re going to have to deal with it.

The current technology approaches, while capable of significantly reducing the volume and nature of spam that reaches users’ inboxes, are not really staying ahead of the spammers. And the whole deal is getting expensive in terms of time, effort and the overhead on what has become a mission-critical application: Internet e-mail. Not to mention the erosion of trust in the medium.

Recent proposals for caller ID-like approaches that allow legitimate senders to identify themselves show promise, but conflicting interests make a universal solution difficult.

Any ideas? Is spam an issue for you, or am I just on a personal hobbyhorse?

I’d be very interested in your views.