Spam’s Carbon Footprint Worse Than 2.3M Cars

The next time you’re deleting a piece of spam, consider this: Not only are the unwanted e-mails wasting your time, they’re also costing the planet.

That’s because spam has a sizable carbon footprint — using 33 billion kilowatt hours (KWh) each year, according to a report by security vendor McAfee.

But McAfee also said that if every inbox were protected by a state-of-the-art spam filter, the energy required to deal with spam could be reduced by 75 percent — the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road.

That’s because filters use less energy than humans do. Humans delete each spam individually, taking up to three seconds per spam e-mail. Machines are more efficient and filters account for only about 16 percent of annual spam energy use, the report found.

There’s a lot of savings to be had because of the sheer volume of spam: There were 62 trillion spam e-mails in 2008, McAfee said. So even though each spam message has a carbon footprint of only 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide, those trillions of tiny feet add up.

The news comes after several months of growing spam volumes followed a steep drop off when the McColo botnet host was shut down late
last year.

The latest spam news is even bleaker. Nilesh Bandhari, product manager at Cisco’s security appliance subsidiary IronPort Systems told earlier this year that spam volumes will increase because botnet owners are building vast bot armies with the capability of sending even more spam — but are not yet using them to their full capacity.

When those armies are unleashed, there could be a flood, he said.

So while the industry is unlikely to prevent an increase in the total volume of spam, both this year and in the future, McAfee’s report instead urges every enterprise to deploy the best possible spam filter — saving their own employees’ time, as well as the planet.

Of course, increased efficiency may be a stronger argument than green virtue in unlocking the enterprise budget: Users spend approximately 104 billion hours per year reading and manually deleting spam, according a 2008 study by Richi Jennings, cited in the McAfee report.

McAfee had not replied to requests for comment by press time.

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