Report: Spam Jammed Corporate Networks in 2002

Spam had a banner year in 2002, bringing its unique brand of annoyance to more computer users on more e-mail systems than ever before, according to new research from e-mail security specialist Postini.

The Redwood City, Calif., firm found that the number of unsolicited pitches sent to its 800-plus corporate clients last year jumped 150 percent over 2001.

In some cases, as many as eight out of 10 e-mail downloading into corporate in-boxes was spam, squandering valuable employee time and stressing IT systems. Some messages also contained viruses, that, if unleashed could result in additional costs. For most corporate accounts the average is about six out of 10.

What’s being sent? Postini’s analysis indicates that 64.3 percent of unwanted messages are special offers or promotions, 21.2 percent bulk mail, 7.9 percent “get rich quick” offers and 6.6 percent contain sexually explicit content. Some messages also contained viruses, that, if unleashed could result in additional costs.

Other experts concur that the increases will force many companies, including some small businesses, to take steps to stem the flow of spam.

“Spam has traditionally been more of a problem for ISPs and their users, but over the past six months corporate e-mail systems have been hit with an increase,” said Maurene Kaplan Grey, research director with Postini.

The increases are expected to continue, at least through 2004, Grey said, barring some governmental fix. Regulating spam is a sticky task, however, as many merchants object to measures that could curtail their legitimate e-mail marketing campaigns.

Another recent study has tried to quantify the costs of spam. San Francisco-based market research company Ferris Research estimated that unwanted commercial e-mail cost U.S. corporations $8.9 billion in 2002.

Ferris computed the cost of spam by calculating its costly effects in three areas: loss of worker productivity; consumption of bandwidth and other tech resources; and use of technical support time. The researcher found that productivity loss accounted for 40 percent of the drain.

The findings contradicted a Pew Internet & American Life Project study, which found Internet users mostly unbothered by spam in the workplace. In a telephone poll of 2,500 adults, 71 percent said “little” of their work e-mail was spam.

The survey’s authors said most of the alarmist talk about spam was generated by what it called “power e-mailers,” who make up a small percentage of the population. Pew concluded that the spam problem was mostly confined to personal e-mail accounts with the major free providers, like MSN’s Hotmail and Yahoo!.