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Study: Spam a costly nuisance

I think, therefore I'm spammed. A new study shows the tsunami of junk e-mail is costing U.S. firms billions of dollars. And how are those firms dealing with it? Many of them aren't doing a spam thing.

A study that will be released next week says spam cost U.S. corporations roughly $8.9 billion in 2002. But many companies have yet to mount a serious attack against spam because top executives see it as an annoyance rather than a serious threat.

The study, to be published Monday by Ferris Research, a consulting firm that specializes in messaging technologies, says spam's cost is high for a few reasons. First, spam increases complaints and questions to the help desk, which Ferris estimates at about $15 per incident. Second, it requires IT shops to scale up their resources, such as mail servers and disk spaces.

But about 45% of the waste is due to the overall loss of productivity, said Marten Nelson, a research analyst at the San Francisco consultancy. The study considers how much time users take receiving and looking at spam, deciding what action to take, and performing that action. Many people can filter spam quickly, but in certain cases, the user will be diverted.

"If you receive three messages a day, loss of productivity adds up quickly," Nelson said.

While customers agree that spam is time consuming, many senior managers regard it as more of a burr under the saddle than an emergency that must be addressed. "Spam has just crept in, and no one has quantified the amount of time it takes," said Tim Koeppe, messaging administrator at Casey Family Program, a Seattle-based social services agency.

The Ferris study says that spam accounts for about 15% to 20% of a corporation's incoming e-mail. ISPs and general mail accounts tend to get far more spam, about 30% of all mail.

Nelson said that spam is increasing within corporations now because it took some time for addresses in corporate mailboxes to become available to spammers. Now spammers can buy CDs with names and addresses that are teeming with addresses on corporate domains.

E-mail servers from IBM and Novell Inc. already have some rudimentary anti-spam capabilities. Microsoft's next version of Exchange, code-named Titanium, will include some out-of-the-box support for anti-spam blacklisting. This feature will let an IT administrator configure an Exchange e-mail server to block spam before it enters the corporation.

But blacklisting, which has been around for years, is not nearly intelligent enough to block most spam. "Think of it as carpet bombing," Nelson said. "You have to block an entire domain, and you have to keep blacklists up to date. It's a lot of work."

There are a few anti-spam vendors that specialize in maintaining a knowledge base and analyzing spam. Based on what they see, they create rules that help filter. Companies like Postini Corp., Redwood City, Calif., Brightmail Inc., San Francisco, and Cloudmark, San Francisco, sell software that creates new rules in real time, Nelson said.

Koeppe said that his company uses some virus scanning tools to block some traffic, but his company has more pressing IT priorities.

"Our CIO wants this done, but it's a matter of time and resources," he said. "It's on our radar to see what the industry will provide in terms of something affordable that actually works."

Nelson said that corporations can educate their users on ways to avoid spam. Users who attend news groups should never post their e-mail as it is. And users should never opt out of spam. "That's a validation of a live address," he said.


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The owner of a small Internet service provider is fed up, and he's not going to take it anymore. The target of his ire: spammers.

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