Judging from the amount of feedback we received, editor-in-chief John Pickett’s November editorial “Damn Spam!” obviously touched a nerve. Here’s a sampling of some of the responses:

I am an IT Manager and have been in the IT business for almost ten years now. Two years ago I scoffed at people who complained about spam. I always told them to just delete it – it only takes a second or two. At that time I got maybe five to ten spam messages per day and figured if everyone just deleted the messages, there was no way that spam could be a viable marketing tool. I mean really, who would respond to an e-mail advertising ‘miracle male-enhancing drugs’? Well, I now get about 150 spam messages per day (no exaggeration) and I now know that I underestimated the stupidity of mankind (or a subset thereof).

Unfortunately I have no brilliant ideas as to how we can rid ourselves of this bandwidth-stealing, time-consuming menace. The one I have seen that might have some value is a verification process. Sender sends e-mail, server replies with verification request, sender verifies to server, server sends message to recipient. It’s a little more work, but it might help kill off spam.

Darryl Cameron, Edmonton

Like many people, I used to think that spam was a real nuisance. I have changed my opinion of late, however. My local newspaper and my Canada Post mailbox always contain materials of a promotional nature. Do I find this a nuisance? Not really, as I can quickly parse through what has been sent to me, and quickly discard any surplus flyers. I even get some promotional items for new restaurants, which I am sometimes tempted to try.

I feel the same way now about spam. It only takes me a quarter of a second to hit the delete key. In fact, some spam is of potential interest to me. For example, I now know that I can purchase a GPS device that my children can wear so that I know where they are. As a method of mass marketing, I believe that this is an easy way for an organization to sell its solutions. It potentially costs much less than conventional marketing means, and the only responses you get back are legitimate inquiries.

Having said all of this, there still are some negative aspects to spam, such as what type of content is presented. This is something that will need to be addressed.

James L. Chillingworth, Mississauga, Ontario

Enjoyed your “Damn Spam!” piece. No, this is not just “a personal hobbyhorse” for you, it is a real problem for all of us. Unfortunately this wonderful piece of technology has been hijacked. The very attributes that made it popular are now choking it. I’m not sure what the solution is. In the short term we have to invest in spam filtering software. We’ve seen a dramatic reduction in unsolicited e-mail since introducing such software. The drawbacks are the undelivered ‘false positives’, along with the uncomfortable feeling of having surrendered to those who have chosen to hijack the technology. Our industry needs to work on this problem and eliminate it. In my opinion it is a priority. After all, how many of us would tolerate an electrical distribution system that was subject to tampering?

George Sousa, P.Eng., Manager of Information Systems, Grand River Conservation Authority

The solution to spam is not filtering it, it is enforcing existing anti-spam rules and using existing technology to enforce them.

The fundamental problem with preventing spam is being able to distinguish a valid sender from a non-valid sender. The technology exists; it’s called SMTP over SSL! Unfortunately, most e-mail administrators don’t implement it, so it is hard to limit incoming e-mail to SMTP over SSL. If all legitimate servers had their external mail-server certified with an externally trusted authority (many already exist), then we could limit receiving e-mail to only trusted servers. If a spam or two comes through legitimate sources, then at least there is a way to contact the remote system administrator and have it dealt with such that it does not re-occur. If it is not dealt with, the certification needs to be revoked or, at the very least, not renewed.

We need to encourage people to move to a trusted server model. This may mean that businesses may no longer accept e-mails from anonymous sources such as hotmail, but how much legitimate business is processed through there anyway?

Name withheld on request, Ottawa

CIO Canada welcomes letters from readers on any topic of interest to IT executives. Letters may be edited for length and/or content. Please send via e-mail to [email protected]

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