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Technically Geeking: 94% of All Email Is Spam — No, Really


a blogumn by Justin Time

spam-productsSpam, Spam, Spam… No, I’m not referring to “America’s favorite canned meat.” Sadly, I am talking about spam: everyone’s least favorite email – also known as unsolicited commercial email (UCE). This kind of spam is back to 94% of all email on the internet, according to Postini data (Google’s spam filter service).

“Back to 94%?” you ask. Yep – last fall a security firm discovered that a certain ISP, San Jose(CA)-based McColo Corp, was facilitating as much as 75% of all junk email. The ISPs connected to them promptly pulled the plug when they found out, and spam was instantly cut in half. That was nice for a few months, but now spam is back, and it’s mad as hell.

junk“What’s the big deal ?” you say. “Either my spam filter catches it or I delete it and move on.” Well, the big deal is that 94% of all email translates to a huge percentage of the bandwidth on the internet being wasted on this garbage. For now, the internet can handle the bandwidth demands, but there is concern that the growth rate of internet usage is outpacing the capacity. That could mean that soon your favorite YouTube video will grind to a halt as high speed internet becomes a sad joke. Also, there is the personal productivity perspective: if you spend 1 minute of every hour deleting spam, that means that over 33 hours of your 2000-hour work year are lost to this demon. Over the course of a 40 year career, you lose 55 days.

“What can I do about spam?” you wonder. As someone who has made a living over email for about 10 years, I have seen more than my fair share of spam. On a typical day, I receive 150-200 junk messages. But I don’t let it get me down. After the jump, here are some ways you can take a bite out of spam, both in your personal life as well as in the more global sense.


SpamSieve: protecting me from 4 hour erections

1. Spam filter. The aforementioned Postini comes with Gmail, and I hear good things. If, like me, you don’t want Gmail, you can use another spam filter service online, such as Spam Arrest. Since I check my email using a local mail client (Entourage), I use a spam filter installed on my computer – SpamSieve. You train the software to recognize spam, and after a few days of training, it automatically deletes spam before it even lands on your plate.

2. Don’t subscribe. The more websites you give your email address to, the more email you get. Some companies will sell your email to other companies so they can spam you. You wouldn’t know this unless you read their privacy policy, but who does that? Consider using an alternate email address you don’t often check when subscribing to less reputable websites.

3. Get a Mac. Well, sort of. Many spammers use viruses to turn Windows machines into slaves that unknowingly send out dirty emails by the thousands. A network of infected machines is known as a botnet. For the longest time, hackers didn’t make viruses for Macs, so they were untouched by these problems. Those glory days may be coming to a close, however, as the first Mac botnet was just recently discovered.

4. Spread the word. Readers of this blog surely know that you never open an attachment from a shady email or your computer will possibly be infected (and join a botnet). But many of our elders are not aware of these dangers. If we educate people about viruses, we can at least reduce the volume of spam sent by botnets.

On a lighter note, find out how SPAM (the canned meat company) feels about spam (the crappy email).