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The Spam Invasion: From E-Mail To Cell Phones

April 14, 2001

Spam is a four-letter word to integrators that sell and support corporate e-mail systems.

The unsolicited e-mail ads and junk mail that clog e-mail boxes is an annoyance that eats up corporate resources, says John Bumgarner, security practice director at Matrix Networking Group, Charlotte, N.C.

But products that filter and block spam require a lot of human input. "If you take a filter, some mail administrator,or, better yet, a human resources person,should figure out categories of keywords to put in the filter to monitor incoming mail," Bumgarner says. At that point, the filter routes possible spam to a log file which then has to be reviewed manually, he says.

But spammers are crafty. To get their message through, they vary subject lines and switch domains. "There is no consistency so it's hard to get a handle on them," says David Via, vice president of technology transition services at Wolcott Systems Group, Akron, Ohio.

One option, filtering every message originating from an AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail account,frequent sources of spam,is hardly feasible, Via says. Intelligent agents under development by both Microsoft and Lotus could help, but their arrival is not imminent, he says.

Other integrators agree that while spam is a problem users complain about, antispam measures are still too time- and resource-intensive.

These include server-side tools such as Brightmail's Anti-Spam Solution and Baltimore Technologies' e-Sweeper, but users can also be taught to use client-side filters.

"You can spend so much time trying to defend against spam that it's just not viable," says James Domengeaux, CEO of, Houston. Domengeaux's company typically writes its own filters when the customer has a pressing need, but when it comes down to his own spam-filled mailbox, "I just highlight it all and delete it," he says.

Wolcott's Via estimates he deletes at least 15 spams from the 70 to 100 e-mails he gets daily.

David Ferris, research director at Ferris Research, says things will get worse before they get better. "There are malicious people out there thinking of ways to spam you. Removing yourself from mailing lists is difficult, and internal [antispam] systems don't work well enough," he says.

And as if things aren't bad enough, spam now threatens voice-mail boxes and cell phone screens as well. To combat this, Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.) proposed a bill in January that would "prohibit the use of the text, graphic or image messaging systems of wireless telephonesystems to transmit unsolicited commercial messages."

Consumers,who foot the bill for every incoming cell phone message,are not too happy about paying for the privilege of getting junk mail on their phones.

One question with the legislation is whether it mandates an opt-in or opt-out model. If recipients are required to actively opt-out of mailing lists,as is now the case with traditional direct marketers,spam will likely proliferate. An opt-out law "will open the floodgates for spam," says Richard Smith, CTO at the Privacy Foundation, Denver.

MARCIA SAVAGE contributed to this story.

By Barbara Darrow, Copyright © 2001 CMP Media LLC.


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