Widespread Use Despite Abuse

Thirty-five percent of the e-mail sent to the 115 million active e-mail users by the end of 2002 will be unsolicited, or “spam” mail, according to Jupiter Research (a unit of this site’s corporate parent). The firm determined that 93 percent of those that go online are active e-mail users — expecting to climb to 98 percent by 2007 — resulting in infiltrations of spam in every user’s inbox.

As the number of e-mail accounts increase, so do the proliferation of unsolicited messages. Jupiter found that most online users maintain one or two e-mail addresses, and nearly one-quarter of them use three or more personal e-mail accounts at least once per month, with younger surfers (18 to 34 years of age) more likely to have more than one e-mail address.

Veteran Internet users are more apt to have a number of e-mail addresses, with one account that is specifically set up to receive commercial messages.

While the majority of messages in inboxes are considered spam (35 percent), Jupiter found that e-mail from friends and family follows right behind at 34 percent. E-mail from companies that Internet users want comprises 17 percent; work or school related messages account for 8 percent; and the miscellaneous category represents 6 percent of messages.

Anti-spam technology firm BrightMail estimates that more than 5 million unique spam attacks were unleashed during August 2002, far exceeding the 1.5 million from the year prior. Measurement and analysis from BrightMail found that unsolicited e-mail fit into nine different categories:

  • Financial marketing messages accounted for 33 percent of the messages, with references to money, the stock market, credit reports, loans, and investments.
  • Product-oriented messages that advertised general goods or services accounted for 31 percent of the spam.
  • Porn spam — defined as offerings for offensive or inappropriate material for persons over the age of 18 — comprised 11 percent.
  • The health category accounted for 5 percent of the spam.
  • Spiritually oriented messages (including offerings for psychics and organized religion) weighed in at 3 percent.
  • Scams, such as the infamous “Nigerian Urgent Business Letter” and pyramid schemes were responsible for 3 percent.
  • Leisure-related messages — those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos — claimed 2 percent of the total spam received.
  • Internet- or computer-related e-mails were responsible for 2 percent.
  • Miscellaneous messages not pertaining to any of the specified categories made up 10 percent.

Surveys conducted by Osterman Research in April 2001 indicate that Internet users are not confident that the spam epidemic is going to dissipate. Among organizations of up to 200 employees, 80 percent say that the spam problem is worse or no better than one year ago, while 68 percent of organizations with more that 200 employees say the problem is worse or no better.

Osterman’s August 2002 survey on e-mail content filtering indicated that more than half (54 percent) of the 127 respondents’ organizations had implemented anti-spam capability, and 40 percent had anti-pornography filters in place. However, only 25 percent were “very satisfied” with their ant-spam software, with most (35 percent) being “somewhat satisfied.”

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