The August 20 edition of The Economist includes an
(restricted to Economist subscribers as of this writing) makes
an interesting claim:
But "spam", unsolicited e-mail, seems to be in retreat. The
amount of spam that swishes through the internet is holding steady
or declining, according to most studies. And of the stuff that
still exists, the vast majority is blocked by filters before it
gets to an inbox.
The core of the article is based on a
MessageLabs report stating that spam, which constituted 83% of all
email traffic in January, fell to "only" 67% in June. 67% remains a
horrifying number, but it also clearly is a step in the right direction.
Interestingly, your editor's personal spam indicator, currently running at
about 4,000/day, does not show any decline at all. Some people, it seems,
are just lucky.
The Economist credits a number of factors in the decline. Filters are one
of those, though the article only mentions proprietary offerings. (Said
proprietary filters are credited with 95% effectiveness, incidentally; your
editor can attest that a well-trained SpamAssassin can do much better than
that). Smarter recipients are another; evidently most Internet users have
already enlarged whatever parts of their anatomy they felt were too small,
or figured out that it wasn't going to happen for them. High-profile legal
setbacks for selected spammers have provided a small disincentive. And
phishing attacks, which are very much on the increase, have convinced many
users that spam can be dangerous and is best avoided.
Phishing is where the action is now - especially in South
America, it would seem, where a strong interest in postcard sites makes
attacks relatively easy. Since there is money in phishing, this problem is
likely to grow, at least until enough people get burned that a general
awareness sets in. It is a somewhat ironic outcome, meanwhile, that the
phishers may be helping to take the profits out of spam, and thus reducing
Declaring victory on spam seems somewhat premature, however. The costs of
carrying that much garbage through the email system, filtering, and
shoveling out mailboxes remain high. But wouldn't it be interesting if the
arms race between spammers and their opponents turned out to be winnable -
by the good guys - after all?
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