An introduction to spam

4/20/04 - By Frederick Hunter, CEO, Tethernet, Inc.
The term "spam" has become a common part of our vocabulary. What started as humorous slang now describes one of the largest problems facing all users of Internet email. Spam, otherwise known as unsolicited commercial email (UCE) is email sent en-masse as advertising for a product or service. In a nutshell, spam is junk mail for your email inbox. As much as paper junk mail is annoying, so is spam, but with some nasty side effects. Spam, especially in large volumes, can keep a user from seeing legitimate email messages. Spam makes users take time to sift through a mountain of email messages just to find the one or two that are legitimate business or personal emails.

Spam exists because it is cheap to send, and even with low response rates, very profitable to those who choose to engage in the practice of spamming. Statistically, if you send out 500,000 emails and can get %0.01 to respond positively, that is 50 customers. If you make only $50 per customer that is $2500. Repeat that process once a week and you have yourself a nice income. Most spammers send many more than 500,000 messages at a time, and their response rates can be fairly high, making this a very profitable business for those who choose to do it.

Statistics vary, but in general the average business email user can expect to receive 15-20 spam messages per day. Users whose email addresses are more public can see in excess of 100 spam messages per day. Each of those messages must be processed by the email server, stored for the user, retrieved over the network by the user, scanned by the user and finally deleted. The costs in both system resources and lost user productivity are staggering. So end users, system administrators and ISP's are all on a quest to eliminate as much spam as possible from their networks and desktops through the use of automated technologies.

The point is clear: it is profitable to send spam, and it is predicted the practice will grow by leaps and bounds over the next few years. It therefore is a necessity that network operators take steps to stem the tide of spam flowing into their networks. By stopping the flow of spam network administrators can regain user productivity and save thousands of dollars each year in network operating costs.

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