Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spam 2.0 remains a growth industry

Six weeks ago I noted predictions by internet experts that spam, after a brief decline last winter, was returning in greater numbers and with greater technological sophistication. That morning, my email spam filter had about 1100 messages trapped in it.

This afternoon, it has over 2800.

Those are just from the last 30 days, since anything older than that is automatically deleted. So we're talking about roughly 100 pieces of unsolicited commercial email--some malicious, some merely avaricious--every day.

And, as I said before, I'm probably getting off easy compared to many email users.

Back when the amount of spam was still low enough that it was a doable task, I used to spot-check the spam filter for false positives from time to time. Never found any. Partly for that reason, but mostly because the numbers now would make it a full time job, I haven't checked it in months. And maybe one or two pieces per month manage to slip through into my inbox.

By one estimate, 94% of all email traffic is spam. I can't imagine the cost, to service providers and system users. It must be almost incalculable. Imagine if even a noticeable fraction of that wasted system capacity were available again.

I do believe one thing: This is not the answer. Even if a tax on spam could somehow be made technologically feasible (which seems unlikely, since many or most spammers operate through a far-flung army "zombie" computers that have captured with malware), the last thing we should do is let the idea of taxing email get its foot in the door. Sure, they're only coming for spammers today, but tomorrow . . .

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