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Billions lost each year due to spam

Agencies | February 02, 2004 12:24 IST

Is your in-box full of unwanted mail? Well, you are not the only one; the entire world and its brother-in-law are facing the same menace.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has sounded alarm bells on the how spam is wreaking havoc and threatening the confidence of Internet users.

The globe pays a very heavy price due to spam: it spreads viruses, steals information, jams computer networks, wastes time and costs Internet users huge hidden sums, says an OECD report prepared for an OECD-European Union.

The report, says The Age, provides some alarming facts and figures on the spam menace:

  • A study conducted by the European Union that every year spam costs almost $12.5 billion to Internet subscribers. And the costs are rising exponentially.
  • Another survey, says a report in The Age quoting AAP, suggests that 65 per cent of Internet users spend as much as 10 minutes every day just killing spam, while 24 per cent devote 20 minutes of their time per day to this hated activity.
  • The Age, quoting yet another study, reports that "almost 10 per cent of corporate e-mail is spam and even if each employee spends 30 seconds per day killing it, the annual cost to a company with 10,000 staff would be $675,000."
  • Another report from Radicati Group said in June 2003 that e-mail spam would cost companies $25.5 billion in 2003 and $198 billion annually by 2007.
  • One research suggests that spam adds 10 per cent to costs for Internet service providers, said The Age.
  • "A US Federal Trade Commission report in April 2003 found that 66 per cent of spam messages were fraudulent in some way. The US Secret Service has designated the so-called 'Nigerian scam,' in which the sender offers to pass on windfall sums of money if a percentage payment is made in advance, as an 'epidemic,' defrauding people of hundreds of millions of dollars per year," said The Age.

The report says there is no simple solution to spam, countering Microsoft founder Bill Gates' assertion at Davos in late January that his company would solve the problem within two years, reports The Age.

While many nations, software firms, Internet service providers, direct marketing trade associations, are trying to find ways to tackle the problem through tougher laws, new codes of practice, strong defences and intelligent filters, the problem continues to rise.

The OECD report, says The Age, warns about:

  • 'Spyware' that travels with an unwanted message to feed off information in distant computers, steals credit card numbers, passwords, and spies and reports on the user's computer connections.
  • Spam gangs: organised groups of spammers.
  • Identity theft, a crime whereby spammers clothe their messages with the identities of companies or individuals and misuse accounts.
  • Dictionary attacks that go fishing randomly for names and e-mail addresses associated with a business or organisation, eliciting or extracting any real addresses thus encountered.
  • Fraudulent or deceptive spam: Most spam messages are deceptive in some way and many are a vehicle for illegal activities ranging from financial fraud to the peddling of illicit products, 'bogus no-risk' investment schemes, 'miracle diets,' and 'prostitution, illegal online gambling services, drugs or weapons.'
  • Spam pornography messages flash indiscriminately around the web, reaching children.
  • Viruses concealed in messages that can multiply through recipients' address books, paralysing computers or obstructing vital services, and thereby 'endanger public safety'.
  • Junk mail brings with it many hidden costs for ISPs, their customers, and for businesses and individuals. It reduces productivity. For example, spam attacks can 'paralyse or shut down' a company's networks. Staff time and company money is consumed in killing unwanted messages and devising counter measures.
  • Spam attacks on company computers and mailing lists pose security and legal risks.

The Age, quoting AAP, reported that the International Data Corporation estimates that there are about 700 million electronic mailboxes in the world, and the total will be 1.2 billion in 2005. Trade data suggests that about 31 billion e-mail messages were sent on Internet in 2002 and that the traffic will exceed 60 billion in 2006.

Research suggests, said The Age, that 90 per cent of viruses are sent via e-mail. In May last year U.S. Internet service provider AOL was blocking 2.37 billion spam messages per day.

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