But I don’t like...

While the need to protect your PC from the threat of viruses and other security threats has been recognised by the majority of companies over the past few years, not least because of the damage inflicted by viruses such as the I Love You virus, many companies have yet to realise that anti-virus is just the first line of defence.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  April 5, 2003

While the need to protect your PC from the threat of viruses and other security threats has been recognised by the majority of companies over the past few years, not least because of the damage inflicted by viruses such as the I Love You virus, many companies have yet to realise that anti-virus is just the first line of defence.

One of the biggest problems, which has been around for years, is spam, that unwanted, unsolicited email that seems to come from nowhere, offering everything from instant riches to herbal viagra. Anyone with a Hotmail account will be more than aware of the sheer volume of rubbish that circulates through email, but many businesses do not seem to regard spam as anything more than an inconvenience.

This is wrong. Besides being offensive, irritating and often downright fraudulent, spam has a more serious impact on the business user. Gartner estimated that last year as much as 25% of all emails were spam—specifically type 1 and 2 spam, from fraudulent schemes, chain letters, invalid senders and so on. That doesn’t even include junk business mail (type 3 spam) and the sort of irrelevant email most organisations manage to generate internally (type 4). Only 5% of organisations will actually manage to filter out 90% of this mail.

Just think of the drain on resources that is caused by this volume of spam—one quarter of all email is unnecessary to the enterprise. In terms of just the time it takes for the average user to sift through this much email, the wastage caused by spam is immense, and that is before you consider the bandwidth it takes up, damage caused by malicious hoaxes or the other security threats included in the email.

But what can the industry do? Attempts to stop people sending junk mail are by and large fruitless, and considering the lack of a unified Internet law in this region, any Middle East attempts to censure the senders of spam are unlikely to be particularly productive.

Software is available to deal with the problem, but so far the uptake has not been great. Also, the risk of false positives—email being identified as spam when it actually comes from a valid user—is of concern for anyone that really relies on email as a business tool. However, the software vendors are working to improve their applications, and once user awareness grows, the market for solutions to fight spam is likely to open up.

Of course, end-users will have to go through the same process of education as with virus awareness, and spam doesn’t have quite the same dramatic effects as a virus outbreak, but given that spending on anti-virus software is predicted to reach $1.3 billion this year, it looks like there could be money to be made from spam after all.

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