RealTime IT News

Spam Explodes Over Holidays -- Up 1,000%

Spam pummeled users over the holidays, exploding about 1,000% since Thanksgiving. And January's numbers aren't expected to deflate to pre-holiday levels either.

''We have seen a more than 1,000% increase in spam for our customers, while only about a 500% increase in total email messages,'' says Brad Bradley, a production manager for Brightmail, Inc., a San Francisco-based anti-spam company that sells software and rules to filter out unsolicited commercial email. ''Spam spikes after Thanksgiving and that spike tends to hold up. It goes down but it never goes all the way down.''

Bradley points out that Brightmail's numbers are only taken from the company's own customers. But Brightmail serves many of the Internet's largest service providers, including AT&T WorldNet, EarthLink, MSN and Verizon Online, as well as a number of Global 2000 companies.

The numbers are large and the percentages are hard to even imagine. But they basically break down to mean that corporate and home users literally have been flooded with spam. Inboxes, while fuller than usual because of holiday e-cards and well wishes from family and business colleagues, have been stuffed to the choking level with hoaxes, scams and other junk email.

Spam is an escalating problem that affects ISPs, corporate enterprises and consumers, filling mail servers and mailboxes with junk mail ranging from enticements for pornographic Web sites to burn-fat and grow-hair scams.

Industry analysts say spam accounts for as much as 50% of an ISP's email traffic flow. And ISP executives are having to buy more servers to deal with the deluge, while dedicating IT workers to deal with the incoming spam and customer relations workers to deal with angry users.

And the holiday deluge had its foreshadowing.

This past summer, both Brightmail and one of the world's largest anti-spam organizations, Mail-Abuse Prevention Systems LLC (MAPS), reported that spam levels were exploding. Ken Schneider, chief technology officer at Brightmail, said just five months ago that email inboxes were being flooded with 400% more spam than they were the previous fall. Margie Arbon, director of operations at MAPS, put their estimate even higher -- 600% to 700%.

That means last summer, if a corporate user had five messages in her inbox, one of them was spam. The numbers are even worse today.

And there isn't simply more spam. There's far more pornographic spam, according to those armed for the anti-spam battle, as well as industry analysts. More pornographic spam is hitting inboxes -- many with increasingly graphic subject lines and often graphic images enclosed. It's a trend that is offensive to many users. And many IT and human resource leaders fear that the increase in pornographic email messages is creating a hostile work environment, leading many companies down a slippery legal road.

So for all of the millions of unsolicited commercial emails that hit users' inboxes this past year, what were the worst? Well, in terms of volume, Brightmail has released a list of its top offenders:

1.Protect Your Computer Against Viruses for $9.95 -- The anti-virus software spam was the most common one in 2002;

2.Verification Department -- A credit card scam has been highly prominent in recent months;

3.Refinancing? Get a FREE Quote on Any Mortgage Loan Program -- The mortgage spam holds its ground as a spam classic this year;

4.Printer Cartridges - Save Up to 80% -- Also a classic, the printer scam remains a top contender;

5.Miniature Remote Control Car. Great Gift -- A newer spam, this one emerged for the holidays and has hit ''full throttle''.