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We Built This City on Spam
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; 9:45 AM
Companies that find a chair once the music stops ought to be sitting pretty. "Anti-spam sales have surged as companies purchase software and hardware to combat junk e-mail, which accounts for up to 60% of e-mail traffic and costs companies an estimated $10 billion annually. Spending on anti-spam products and services will swell to nearly $1 billion this year, up 50% from 2003, says market researcher The Radicati Group," the USA Today article said.
More on this, from the New York Times: The new settlement "is far smaller than the millions in penalties that Mr. Spitzer said he would seek when he filed the case. 'We will drive them into bankruptcy, and therefore others will not come into the marketplace to take their place,' Mr. Spitzer said in December. 'If we're going to succeed, we not only have to shut down those who are there now but make it evident that there is no viable business model here.' Brad Maione, a spokesman for Mr. Spitzer, declined to comment on the discrepancy between Mr. Spitzer's comment in December and the amount of the ultimate fine." Richter's dad, also his attorney, told the AP that the settlement amount "speaks for itself."
Maybe Spitzer should have been peeking into the orange groves and freshwater springs of the Sunshine State: Florida, it seems, has become a popular breeding ground for junk mail. "Although Florida is fighting back with an anti-spam law that went into effect this month, the state has long been known as the 'spam capital of the world,'" the publication Florida Today reported. John Mozena, a Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail spokesman, said: "Florida is relatively attractive to folks who are running scam-type operations because it has very favorable personal bankruptcy laws," Mozena said. "If they get sued, they're able to hold on to a lot more of their personal possessions." The article offered other scary spam facts: "Recent studies estimate as many as 15 billion spams -- advertising everything from get-rich-quick schemes and cheap Viagra to pornographic Web sites -- are sent out every day. The cost to U.S. businesses has been put at anywhere from $10 billion to $87 billion a year."
Spam is not only costly, it is dangerous. DigitalMediaEurope, a newswire for European digital media news, cited information from online security firm Clearswift, which found that organized crime is proliferating spam messages. "Not only does spam cause network congestion and reduce productivity, it is now being used as a channel for a plethora of malicious and illegal activity," Alyn Hockey, Clearswift's director of research, said in a statement, picked up by the site. "Organised crime gangs now have access to a significant networks of zombie PCs, mainly home PCs with broadband connections, capable of churning out vast quantities of spam. These networks are now being used as a platform for a variety of crimes such as extortion, using the threat of denial of service attacks, and fraudulent identity theft scams, using phishing techniques."
All of this has led some computer users to throw up their hands (and almost throw their PCs out the window) in disgust. Computerworld's editor-at-large Mark Hall penned an opinion piece about PC woes from junk mail: "I won't bother to ask if you've been a victim of a virus, a worm, spyware or some other bit of unsavory code that hitchhiked its way into your PC via your e-mail queue. You have. And why waste my breath asking whether you get more real mail than spam? You don't. PC-based e-mail is rapidly becoming one of the most unreliable, unsafe and unpleasant modes of communication at our disposal. It won't be long before we abandon it. Not only is e-mail becoming increasingly irritating to many of us, but it's also becoming more expensive for companies to manage. Much more." He surmised that instant messaging and other communication tools will outpace e-mail. "So-called realists out there will dismiss these lamentations by saying that despite all of its problems, PC e-mail is too popular to be abandoned. Perhaps. But those old enough to remember Usenet know that even a good, useful communications tool can be abandoned once it becomes overrun by hucksters, pornographers and other pond scum floating around the Internet. Usenet is still out there, but its popularity is near zero."
Hall isn't the only one predicting the end of e-mail. A survey by e-mail security company MessageLabs found "six out of ten companies claim they will give email up if the threat posed by viruses, spam and other unwanted content is not contained and a viable alternative emerges. A further 40% of respondents to an email security survey carried out by MessageLabs said they feel 'worried' by the current email security threat to their business, with only 29% feeling 'optimistic,'" according to financial information site AccountancyAge.com.
Spam's evil cousin is spyware, software that secretly monitors people's Web surfing habits and is a favorite identity theft tool for hackers. The problem has gotten so big that PC maker Dell is launching an anti-spyware and anti-virus information Web site and is also offering phone consultations that start at $39 a pop for Dell customers for spyware removal help, the Wall Street Journal reported today. "Dell's motives aren't entirely altruistic. About 20% of calls to its consumer-help lines are related in some way to spyware or viruses. 'We want everyone to get protected so they have a better experience and not swamp our tech-support line,' said Mike George, Dell vice president and general manager of U.S. consumer business," the Journal said. "By launching the Web page, Dell is joining a growing list of companies trying to help consumers stem the spyware tide. Yahoo Inc. launched an antispyware application in May, and Microsoft Corp. is expected to release an update for its Windows XP operating system that will block unrequested downloads from Web sites and pop-up ads."
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