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Spamming of American business costs millions in lost time and productivity

Junk e-mail on the rise, clogging corporate in-boxes

Unsolicited commercial e-mail, also known as spam, used to be just a minor annoyance. But most e-mail users will agree it has grown into a major headache that wastes an excessive amount of time. Simply put, spam is out of control and costing businesses and industry great sums in wasted time and resources.

Some people get irate, and try-red-faced and infuriated — to track the junk mail senders down. That not only doesn’t help, but can hurt.

“Spam has gotten worse lately,” says Pamela Crabtree, spokesperson for Datasync, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) on the Coast. “Customers are concerned, and we’re having the same problem. I can’t tell you how many pieces of mail I delete each morning. The first thing I do when I get into work is check e-mail and delete all addresses that are not recognizable. That also protects you from picking up viruses.”

Some customers go so far as to change their e-mail address because they are so tired of spam. But Crabtree says if you’ve gotten on all those spam lists by visiting certain Web sites, you have to avoid visiting those Web sites again or you’ll get right back on those spam lists.

“Be cautious about the Web sites you visit,” Crabtree recommends.

Chris Marsalis, director of operations for Dixie-Net.com, Ripley, said spam has increased a lot over the past two or three months primarily because of the sale of mailings on the net. E-mail marketing is cheap and it must be at least somewhat effective or there wouldn’t be so much of it around.

Even people like Marsalis, who know a lot about the problem, aren’t immune from spam. “I was out of town for a few days recently,” he said. “When I got back, I had 450 messages and 95 of those were spam.”

Dixie-Net has explored several options for dealing with the problem. Currently none of the solutions are perfect. For example, you can use a feature called “block sender” to permanently block e-mail from a spammer. But all the spammer has to do is change the e-mail address slightly and the spam is right back in your in box. Since hundreds of ISPs provide free e-mail addresses, it is easy to get a new one.

Another remedy being used is a filter that targets common subject lines for spam such as “make money quick” or “get rich now.” But if a friend or business associate sends an e-mail that has those words in the subject line, a message you wanted to receive could be blocked.

Marsalis said each user who wants to eliminate spam may eventually have to establish a list of people he or she will accept mail from. Mail from other sources will be rejected. Obviously, that also isn’t a perfect solution. But if the frequency of spam keeps increasing as it has in recent months, it may be better than the alternative-receiving more spam than legitimate e-mail.

Another thing that could be done by ISPs is to stop harboring spammers.

“We here at Dixie-Net work hard to make sure we don’t harbor or support spammers,” Marsalis said. “There are many ISPs out there who look the other way when their customers are spamming. There is also a common misconfiguration on mail servers, which allows spam to propagate by leaving the mail server as an open relay. A lot of inexperienced systems administrators leave the loophole in there. Spammers seek that out and exploit it.”

Spammers also often will put a link in their e-mail that says “click here to remove.” The problem is it only adds you to more mailing lists.

“A lot of people don’t realize that,” Marsalis said. “There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who are exploiting that.”

Right now the best defense a person has is to just hit the delete button. But let’s hope the same technology that brought us such a useful tool, e-mail, will find a way to stop spamming.

Marsalis said the solution is made more difficult by privacy issues. Most people don’t like the idea of an ISP looking at every piece of mail delivered even though it would be an electronic filter — not a person — looking at the mail.

“We are working on ways to eliminate or mediate the problem without violating any of our users’ privacy and also trying to make it an efficient way of handling the problem,” he said. “We do have some internal development teams working on a couple of possibilities.”

Recycle your spam

The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (www.cauce.org) says junk e-mail costs Internet users and Internet-based businesses millions per year. CAUCE argues that junk e-mail is “postage due” marketing; it’s like a telemarketer calling you collect. The economics of junk e-mail encourages massive abuse and because junk e-mailers can get into the business very cheaply, the volume of junk e-mail is increasing every day.

CAUCE actually asks people to send their junk email to them at “Spam Recycling Center,” spamrecycle@Choose YourMail.com. They ask that you provide your state’s abbreviation in the subject line when you forward spam e-mail. The spam they gather is used to lobby Congress and is also made available to software companies to improve their spam filter products. If you’re mad about spam, it is better to send it to the spam recycling center than reply to the sender.

Another tip is to not post your e-mail address on your personal home page. Spammers and the people who sell spamming as a business have software that “harvests” e-mail addresses from the Net.

Newsgroups are also a risk for increased spam. Experts say if you post to a group, you’re going to get spam — it’s just a matter of time. If you still want to participate, use a different e-mail address. Have a “public” address and a private address.

Also be cautious when a Web site asks for your e-mail address. Consider whether you really want frequent e-mails from the site, and whether the site might be trustworthy enough not to sell e-mail addresses. Web sites that are legitimate should have a statement guaranteeing privacy.

Anti-spam software can also help, and is available free from most ISPs.

One last tip is to never buy anything advertised by spam. If spam doesn’t work, eventually it will go away.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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