It’s hard for me to judge if the spam problem really is insurmountable. The evidence of the 1309 messages in my inbox suggests it’s annoying, but not yet an e-mail killer. Then again my address is on our Web site and I’ve found the Lotus Notes R5 mail management rules too cumbersome to be bothered with.
If you accept the clamour from industry heavyweights, analysts, and pollies here and overseas, then spam is the end of the e-mail world, as we know it. This lot is painting a dire scenario that must be tackled on all fronts with weapons of spam destruction like filtering and heuristic systems, punitive legislation and virus/worm/spam stopping services such as MessageLabs.
Jeani Boots, Trend Micro’s “global mistress of spam” (as introduced by local MD Chris Poulos) was in town last week to promote Trend’s new spam-prevention service. She cited Ferris Group stats that claim that in 2003, companies would incur $US10 billion in spam-related costs. A press report has a Gartner analyst saying that "by 2004, unless an enterprise takes defensive action, more than 50 per cent of its message traffic will be spam". At the recent US Federal Trade Commission Spam Forum, Commissioner Orson Swindle declared that "e-mail is the killer app of the Internet, and spam is killing the killer app".
But are things really that bad? At Trend’s spam luncheon I was slightly embarrassed to learn from a peer from a rival publishing company that spam isn’t really a problem where she works. This prompted me to take a casual look at some reviews of personal spam busting products. I gained the impression that stopping 70 to 80 per cent, or more, of spam is easy enough, even if tools such as Spammix for Eudora and Firetrust MailWasher Pro 3 may demand a fine-tuning effort that’s as much hassle as the spam itself. Other tools are reportedly highly effective with less hands-on effort, notably McAfee’s SpamKiller 4 (Version 5 due), Sunbelt Software's IHateSpam for Outlook 3.2 and Cloudmark’s SpamNet 1.0. Recently launched in Sydney for personal protection was the SpamTrap service from new company Messagecare (formed by a group of OzeMail founders). I have no idea how well this service has been received.
As good as some of these tools and services are, a busy enterprise end user (like me) is hardly going to have time for too much fine-tuning. More interesting are enterprise offerings that promise to put the problem back into the hands of IT. These include McAfee Security’s SpamKiller, which works with Microsoft Exchange Small Business server. McAfee is a division of Network Associates, which earlier this year acquired Deersoft for its SpamAssassin Pro and SpamAssassin enterprise products. Also on offer is Symantec Antivirus for SMTP Gateways 3.1 which uses heuristics to "score" incoming e-mail that help determine whether it's spam or not. Trend Micro’s antispam engine is licensed from Tokyo-based Postini, and it also performs heuristic analyses of spam message contents and attributes. Sun Belt Software has moved towards the enterprise with its iHateSpam Server Edition (Exchange 2000). Postini, by the way, lists the Sydney area/Australian Eastern seaboard as one of the world’s hot spots for Directory Harvest Attacks. See www.postini.com/stats/maps.html.
Me, I’m embarrassed, but not that annoyed. I’m waiting for the IT manager to fix it for me.