Costly spam that needs to be canned

A new survey has found that the sending of unsolicited e-mails, known as `spamming', is costing British business more than pounds 5bn per year. Sandra Vogel reports
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The Independent Culture
Spam. Just saying the word is enough to throw some Internet users into a frenzy. And it is no wonder, if a new report from Novell is anything to go by. Eager to encourage businesses to make the most of their software, and use computers to increase, not decrease, productivity, Novell has completed a survey into the prevalence of spam, or unsolicited e-mail, in Britain and Ireland, and has come up with some astounding results.

The bald figures spell out the sheer scale of the problem - 65 per cent of respondents to the survey admitted to having received spam. The actual amount any one person receives varies, with three out of four respondents saying they had up to five spams a day, and 16 per cent receiving between six and 20 spams daily.

That amount of spam can take quite a lot of managing. Fifteen per cent of respondents claimed to spend an hour dealing with spam every day. That is a huge chunk of time to take out of an average working day, and, as every good businessperson knows, time is money. The bottom line of Novell's research is that spam costs business in Britain and Ireland pounds 5.3bn a year.

But diminishing the corporate coffers is not the only problem associated with spam. It can also have a significant effect on the individuals who receive it. At one end of the spectrum, it is just an irritating, unwanted, timewaster. E-mails of the "get rich quick" variety and unwanted memos circulated on internal e-mail systems are glanced at and trashed. But at the other end, spam can include chain letters, fanatical religious messages, pornography, personal harassment and even what is becoming known as cyber-stalking.

During the course of its research, Novell uncovered the case of Emma, a 16-year-old office junior, who, because of her propensity to use Usenet discussion groups, a key hunting ground for spammers, has ended up on plenty of lists. She currently receives 25 spams a week. Novell's research indicates that around 6 per cent of spam is sex- or pornography-related and, inevitably, some of it fell into Emma's mailbox. She is angry. "Spammers put things like `message from a friend' in the subject header. It's really annoying when you think you've got mail from a friend only to find some pretty disgusting porn," she says.

And what about those bulk spammers intent on direct marketing by e-mail? Sanford Wallace, also known as the "Spam King", is well known as a peddler of junk e-mail Stateside, but the UK is starting to hatch home-grown spammers. In a case currently being investigated by Strathclyde police, one bulk e-mail operation sent 300,000 messages per hour for 11 hours before being stopped by their Internet service provider.

Given all this, says Andrew Sadler-Smith, managing director of Novell UK, "it is alarming that so many companies don't have a policy to combat spam, especially as there are many software applications and features in e-mail products available now which can offer an effective way of counteracting it."

In fact, during the course of its research, Novell found that only one in four companies had a policy for dealing with spam. In a bid to redress the balance, it has released its own written policy guidelines, which are intended to act as a starter for any company wanting to "can the spam". Coupled with some good filtering software, and strong policies on e-mail harassment, these should help to save some of that pounds 5.3bn, and eliminate one of the modern causes of workplace stress.

`A Spammer in the Works' is available from Firefly on 0171-381 4505, cost pounds 45

guidelines for dealing with spam


respond with another spam mail or a "flame" mail as this could provoke "spam wars". An acceptance of any offers by e-mail or even a simple reply legitimises your e-mail address for future spamming

spend time sifting through, reading and opening numerous spam mails

be provoked into aggressive or anti-social conduct in the workplace

leave your e-mail address in chat groups or enter questionable Web sites

give your e-mail address to contacts you do not fully trust and know


think before you send any e-mail

ensure that all e-mails you send are labelled and targeted correctly, and are consistent with the company's policy

make full use of the functionality of your filtering software

in the absence of effective software, report the spam mails to your IT manager, line manager or personnel manager. They can then determine appropriate action

inform your Internet service provider of the volume of spam mails and request that action be taken