Efficient or Not

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-06-09 Print this article Print

?"> The Nucleus report also makes statements about the declining effectiveness of spam filters in the face of an increasing volume of spam. This sounds more plausible. Indeed, the MessageLabs research indicates that 76 percent of the mail it processed in May was spam, up from 67 percent just a month earlier. Clearly, even very effective spam filters will keep letting spam through unless they are perfect, and we know theyre not perfect.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
But the Nucleus report speaks derisively of spam filers: "The impact of filtering technology on the volume of spam has dropped from 26 to 20 percent," it says. "Whereas spam filters have become more sophisticated over the past year, sheer growth in messages sent by spammers and corporate hesitation to set aggressive filters are among key factors driving this figure."

Twenty percent? Where do they get such a number? Ive been involved in many a performance test of spam-filtering systems. Ill admit that there are limitations in benchmarking, but I feel safe saying that even bad filters stop well more than 20 percent.

Once again, I asked Nucleus. Its response: "This indicates not the decreasing effectiveness of filters—we all agree they have gotten better—but the corresponding increase in the number of spam messages received per user and the reluctance of administrators to set overaggressive filtering."

This is dissatisfying. The report speaks of percentages. How can the filters have gotten better and yet detect a smaller percentage of spam? Maybe its just explained badly, but Im not inclined to give it that much credit.

We see cost numbers like this all the time, and they always look fishy to me. Usually, we see them after some major worm outbreak, and we hear how it cost American business $8 billion. Think critically about such numbers. Hurricane Floyd ripped up the East Coast a few years ago, destroying property all along the way—including in my town—and the cost of that was estimated at $4.5 billion. How much damage can a worm really do? Put your spam in that perspective.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at http://security.eweek.com for the latest security news, reviews and analysis.

Be sure to add our eWEEK.com developer and Web services news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page More from Larry Seltzer

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.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel