Ask ten people to define spam and you will get 10 different answers and one request–How can I stop it?
The short answer is that spam is the abuse of electronic messaging to send unsolicited bulk-mail messages indiscriminately. The most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam. There are similar abuses in instant messaging, newsgroups, web search, blogs, mobile phone texting, junk fax and social networking spam.
Most of you are concerned about e-mail spam. If you are old enough, you may remember SPAM as a canned meat product, produced in the Unites States by Hormel. What you may not know is that post-war England survived in a large part due the use of this type of imported meat product, while it rebuilt its agricultural base. The most prevalent was a “corned beef” product from Argentina. It was widely used and widely hated.
Enter “Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the famous cafe sketch of 1970, where the only item in many disguises was SPAM. Off stage a chorus is singing the words SPAM over and over, in effect “spamming”the dialogue. It wasn’t until the 80′s that BBS users would type the word “spam”over and over to push other users’ text off the screen. After that it took several years until it became a part of our language.
Why spam? The answer is that it can be commercially viable. If a spammer can convert a spam to a sale, then it becomes economically worthwhile. It can also be a way for malware to enter your system.
In February 2010, Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit shut down the Waledac Botnet. A botnet is a series of PCs that have been hijacked and used in a remote control fashion to aid in the distribution of spam. It was estimated the Waledac botnet had infected hundreds of thousands of computers around the world.
Between December 3 and 21, approximately 651 million spam e-mails went to Hotmail accounts alone from the Waledac Botnet. The capacity of the botnet was in excess of 1.5 billion e-mails a day. So if you are pushing a pharmacy product and you convert 1 in 12 million, you can make money sending spam. In 2009 Cisco systems reported the origins of spam by country (in trillions per year):
On the receiving end, handling SPAM can be expensive. In a study done in California for the year 2007, it was found that spam cost US business $13 Billion. That was for lost productivity, additional equipment, software and manpower to combat the problem. The direct cost is in the consumption of computer and network resources and the cost in human time and attention. The indirect costs are more difficult to measure; they are mostly borne by the victims and the crime that accompanies it: financial theft, identity theft, data and intellectual property, virus and malware infection, child pornography, fraud and deceptive marketing.
As spammers have gotten more sophisticated, so have the anti-spam devices. In a 24 day period at the end of 2009, the EZSolution mail server handled 873,000 incoming e-mail messages; only 167,000 were valid e-mails which were let thru the system to your mailboxes, the rest were spam and rejected.
Even with the Waledac Botnet out of business, there are still many out there. Most recently, in February 2010, Symantec Labs reported that 80% of all spam is sent out by 10 botnets that average 135 billion messages a day and have 5 million computers in their botnets.
What can you do to avoid spam?
The answer is its very unlikely you can avoid it, but there are several things you can do to lessen its impact on your life.
Make sure your computer is up to date with the latest service packs and security updates; don’t avoid updating because it is inconvenient
Keep your anti-virus program up to date
Install Microsoft Security Essentials from www.microsoft.com; it is an excellent additional tool to catch malware that comes in through e-mail spam or web spam
Be careful about opening e-mails from people you don’t know
Be careful about opening e-mail from what appears to be legitimate companies, like Microsoft, or EBay, Amazon or an address that simply says support, if you are not expecting an e-mail and you have no previous relationship that’s a good clue it’s spam.
At the corporate level, there are good cost-effective means of stopping spam, especially if you host your own e-mail. There are several good spam filters we have deployed for our clients. If you are having a “spam”issue, give us a call and talk about how we can help you be more productive and keep more of your dollar in the bottom line.
About the Author: Rich Crockett is the Tech Service Manager at EZSolution Corp. For more information about computer repair or computer services in Lancaster, PA visit EZSolution’s website.