Spam now accounts for 70% of all e-mails

Spam now accounts for 70% of all e-mails

Global levels of junk mail worldwide continue to increase, according to filtering firm MessageLabs.

More than two thirds (67.6 per cent) of the 840m emails scanned by filtering firm MessageLabs last month was identified as spam.

"We expect global levels to reach 80 per cent by the middle of the year," Natasha Staley, information security analyst at MessageLabs, told BBC News Online.

MessageLabs figures also indicate significant regional variations and spam "hot spots", despite attempts to deter spammers through legislation.

Currently, email traffic sent to the United States, the UK, Germany, Australia and Hong Kong represents more than 97 per cent of the global spam volumes being filtered by MessageLabs.

The US was the worst hit, with 83 per cent of total traffic identified as spam.

This fell to 52 per cent in the UK, 41 per cent in Germany, 32 per cent in Australia and 30 per cent in The Netherlands.

The figures suggest spammers are targeting English-speaking countries and regions where the proliferation of Internet/email usage is at its highest.

Despite international efforts to cut down on the sending of unsolicited messages, it appears that spammers are simply adapting to new laws rather than shutting up shop.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that despite spam being a global problem, Europe and the US are not singing from the same hymn book when it comes to legislation, said Ms Staley.

The US Can-Spam Act, introduced at the beginning of the year, requires people to reply to e-mails in order to stop receiving them, while the EU favours a so-called opt-in clause, meaning individuals have to actively request commercial e-mails.

The fact that much of the spam is generated in the US renders the EU law ineffectual.

There is also evidence that the nature of junk mail is changing.

According to a study by rival content filtering firm, Clearswift, spammers are abandoning porn for the more profitable area of financial spam.

Junk mail offering stock price tips, cheap loans and mortgages accounts for 37.8 per cent of all spam, while pornography accounts for just 4.8 per cent.

A year ago, however, porn accounted for 22 per cent of all junk email blocked by Clearswift.

Sexually explicit spam has been on decline ever since, accounting for only five per cent of total spam seen by Clearswift last month.

US Federal Trade Commission rules insisting that porno spam needed to be labelled as "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT" came into effect last week.

However, healthcare leads the pack, with promises of Viagra, miracle diets and hair-restorers still the spammers favourite, making up 40 per cent of all junk mail.

"We've seen no sign of a let up in the amount of spam traffic so it seems quite clear that the legislative efforts of governments around the world are having little effect on the spammers,” said Alyn Hockey, Clearswift’s Director of Research.

"However, from the dwindling amount of pornographic spam email, it appears that adult products and services are not generating sufficient returns for spammers. Instead, they are switching to more profitable models using stock tips and consumer products as a hook."

It is estimated that spam costs US businesses $10 billion in 2003.

British businesses are around £3.2 billion out of pocket because of the amount of junk clogging up inboxes, according to MessageLabs.

Sources: BBC Online, The Register

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