So why is everyone

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-01-05 Print this article Print

else getting more spam?"> As they point out, AOL is at the forefront of civil actions against spammers, along with Microsoft and some other large ISPs. I always figured that to the extent these actions are effective we all benefit from them, but AOL would have us believe that the spammers arent so much chased out of business as much as off of AOL. I suppose its easy to scrub a list of e-mails of those in the domain, but I still have trouble believing that it really makes a difference.

The main reason Im skeptical is that nobody else is claiming a similar trend, and lots of other sources are claiming just the opposite. After the AOL announcement, I sent out questions to many ISPs and other vendors and only got a few responses (it was a holiday weekend). The only major AOL competitor to respond was Microsoft, who said that they couldnt make an apples-to-apples comparison to AOLs claims because they track numbers differently. This does make sense, since AOL gave the funny numbers about messages in users spam folders and other such vagueness.

Microsoft did say that "...over the last year MSN customers are receiving more than 60 percent less spam, mostly due to Microsofts "Smartscreen" filtering technology, which stops more then 3.2 billion spam messages a day worldwide." Now this is more of a plain and credible number, although it says nothing about the amount of spam coming into the MSN and Hotmail networks. Is this number better or worse than the AOL numbers? Its impossible to say; youd need to know more about how much actual spam was coming in before the alleged declines.

Given that all other sources I follow claim that the amount of spam out there is going up, its hard to take AOLs numbers at face value. For instance, according to MessageLabs, the average percentage of e-mail identified as spam in 2004 was 73 percent; in 2003, the average was 40 percent. I see similar numbers from other sources. Are spammers really avoiding AOL to such an extent that their trend is a polar opposite of the industry?

Click here to read more about spam trends. Apart from AOLs claim that theyve scared the spammers off, theres just one other explanation, for which Ill thank Stephen Canale of OnlyMyEmail. They had speculated that the protections at consumer ISPs were being hardened against spam more effectively and more quickly than business domains, and that user addresses at consumer ISPs are more volatile than at business domains. Therefore, eventually spammers might migrate to focusing on business addresses and the quality of their lists would improve. Its a theory and you can make a case for it, but I still think AOLs numbers are a bit too happy.

Id love to be wrong, because if I am it means that aggressive filtering and aggressive legal action can be effective against spammers. We should know more by this time in 2006. Ill believe it more when I start to see other vendors making similar claims.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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