Saturday, February 25, 2006

Dealing with the Spam Epidemic

The following is courtesy of:

Computer Associates

Regaining Control of Your Inbox

The first spam e-mail ever sent, according to IBM, can be traced back to April 2, 1994. In the 12 years since, spam has grown at an exponential rate. According to readily available statistics, spam accounted for anywhere between 40% and 82% of all e-mail in 2005. With this growth has come new legislation: the CAN-SPAM Act of 2004 (see “The CAN-SPAM Act” below).

The sources of spam are widely varied, but the most common perpetrators include unregulated overseas parties, legitimate businesses, viruses, criminal phishing scams and others. Although legitimate businesses have largely cleaned-up their act, consumers may still perceive certain legally acceptable e-mail solicitations as spam (see “What ‘Exactly’ Is Spam?” below).

Many other efforts to curb spam are also underway. Some of the largest ISPs are making some headway. And thousands of publicly available blacklists and white lists exist, denoting “good” and “bad” senders (see “Fighting Back…and Winning” below). Yet, despite all the efforts underway, the surest method for protecting yourself and your family today is to run your own anti-spam software.

What "Exactly" is Spam?
It’s hard to nail down a precise definition, which is a constant challenge in the fight against spam proliferation. The fact is, “spam” means different things to different people. Some believe in a broad interpretation — that spam is unwanted email of ANY kind, even forwarded joke e-mails from friends and relatives can sometimes qualify. Others confine their definition of spam to unsolicited ads and commercial offers. But what if the offer comes from a store or Web site where you shop frequently — and comes with a valuable coupon attached? What if you were glad to receive it? Would you still then call it “spam?"

According to Merriam-Webster online, spam is “unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses.” Pretty straightforward, right? However, for Internet security providers like CA, the definition can be expanded to include phishing scam e-mails that aren’t trying to sell you anything, virus infected e-mails that come from friends, or any e-mail from persons you haven’t authorized to enter your Inbox.

Clearly, the definition continues to pose a challenge. As new interpretations arise for what spam “is” and “is not,” technological solutions and legal remedies will evolve as well.

Spam Facts & Stats
Check out these staggering statistics about spam:

  • Research indicates that more than 40% to 82% of all e-mail is unsolicited, unwanted spam.

  • According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group’s Report of August 2005, the country hosting the most phishing sites in August was the United States.

  • 13,776 unique phishing reports were received in the month of August alone.

  • 30% of all spam is relayed [or unknowingly broadcasted] by compromised home and home office PCs.

  • Two-thirds of spam is deceptive or false and violates the law.

  • According to CNET, consumers have rated spam as one of the most pervasive problems they face today.

  • 23% of home computer users have received at least one phishing attempt via e-mail over the prior two weeks.

  • 63% of email users say they have received porn spam, compared to 71% just a year ago.6

  • The cost of spam in the U.S. has now reached $21.58 billion annually in lost productivity.7

  • Percentage of spam recipients who . . .

      … open spam to see what the message says — 14%

      … sweep their accounts free of spam at least once a week — 68%

      … receive at least 40 spam emails a day — 78%8

The CAN-SPAM Act in Review
Ever wonder what the government is doing to protect you from unwanted spam? Here’s a brief summary of the Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM Act and how this legislation is designed to protect you:

  • It bans false or misleading header information (who the e-mail is from).

  • It prohibits deceptive subject lines.

  • It requires that commercial email give recipients an opt-out method.

  • It requires that commercial email be identified as an advertisement and include the sender's valid physical postal address.

Each violation of the above provisions is subject to fines of up to $11,000. Deceptive commercial email also is subject to laws banning false or misleading advertising. Additional fines apply to spammers who not only violate the rules described above, but also use unscrupulous methods of obtaining e-mail addresses, such as “harvesting.” The CAN-SPAM Act also allows the Department of Justice to seek criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for some more serious offenses, such as sending spam through another entity’s computer without authorization.

Despite industry and government’s best efforts, it’s entirely possible that spam may never effectively be eliminated, so it only makes sense to do your best to restrict it.

Fighting Back...and Winning!
While major ISPs today offer their subscribers some built-in anti-spam protection, many major security developments are still slated for future releases. New technologies such as “DomainKeys” and “Sender ID” have been developed that would help ISPs authenticate the sender of the e-mail before they deliver it to your Inbox. Other proposals include compelling emailers to pay to have their messages delivered, thereby weeding out unscrupulous marketers and low value messages. But while these technologies represent a step in the right direction, it is only a partial solution to decreasing the volume of spam … and it won’t be fully available for some time. Since the problem has grown so wild and widespread, you need protection today.

You need software that works more diligently, and vigilantly, on your individual behalf, to keep you one step ahead. Such as building “white lists” of approved senders and domain addresses and “black lists” for suspicious dispatchers. Or using advanced probability filtering techniques, content fingerprinting and scoring, plus comprehensive ID authentication. This technology, available in CA’s eTrust® Anti-Spam, intuitively evaluates content before you open any email and intelligently flags and quarantines unknown messages as potentially harmful.

eTrust Anti-Spam offers simple-to-use yet powerful features like these that work seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, allowing YOU to regain control of YOUR Inbox.

For more information about how to protect your identity,
click here.

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Behavior Management Expert and Maximizing Your Potential Mentor™ Etienne A. Gibbs is a life-observing author, engaging talk show host, humorous speaker, and successful trainer who teaches small business owners, managers, and employees how to speak, think, and perform in ways that will help them shine. In the end, they maximize their critical thinking, speaking, and management skills.

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