Quo vadis, spam?

Could 2011 be the year in which technology makes spam become invisible? Could one of the scourges of electronic communications disappear from sight? It’s an optimistic prediction but maybe in the not-too-distant future, we’ll get all nostalgic about those Nigerian 419 scam emails and those almost irresistible offers.


Because the gamekeepers are catching up with the poachers. This doesn’t mean to say that spam messages won’t continue to exist: in fact according to research quoted on Wikipedia, spam now accounts for up to 90 percent of all email traffic. What I expect to change is that for the average user, it will disappear from view.

This gain is not without pain. Coupled with a dramatic decline in the number of junk mail messages has been the occasional false-positive classification of important mails. Often overlooked until it’s too late, blocking of a legit message by a spam filter underlines just how much we depend on email for daily business, how we have come to trust the defenses that keep spam at bay, and how picking up the phone is still a valid communications medium.

During 2010, I kept a log of the number of blocked spam messages that I’d actually not received every day. Why? Initially I was more interested in scoping out how many legitimate messages were arriving on an average working day. The spam tally became a more interesting study, especially as over time, I noted a strange correlation between the number of spam and “legit” messages, especially over the weekends: on days that I received a lot of ‘legit’ mail, I’d also see an increase in spam.

To shed some light on this, I asked Philippe Green, Chief Technology Officer at Greenview Data, providers of one of the leading enterprise anti-spam solutions, SpamStopsHere.  He told me: “We believe that the correlation you are seeing is due to spammers targeting users when they are most active.  From our data, spammers attempt to send the bulk of their new spam campaigns during U.S business hours.  This might be partly due to the fact that the spammers themselves are located in the U.S.  However, it is most likely due to their efforts to target users when users are using email most heavily.

“Another reason for sending spam during normal business hours is that some spam filters check against spam databases when the user requests their email, in addition to when the server receives the email.  Therefore, if the spam is sent at e.g. 2AM and the user doesn’t request their inbox until e.g. 10AM, this allows an extra 8 hours for anti-spam databases to get updated.  Therefore, it is more effective to send the spam at 10AM,” Philippe added.

My New Year’s resolution, therefore, is to make sure that I’m keeping an eye on that spam folder, and the daily reports, just in case a false positive slips through – and not to hesitate in picking up the phone in case I don’t get an answer I’m waiting for.  Which of course could lead to a rise in another type of annoyance: voicemail logjam. What do you think?

~ Simon JonesOnPR, Munich

Simon Jones January 6, 2011 at 9:31 am

Looks as if I’m on the money here – the BBC today reports that “spam levels suddenly fall” although I wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t for my 2010 spreadsheet, to be honest…

Dave Wilson January 6, 2011 at 9:55 am

Or could it be the calm before the storm…..

The line in the BBC article that worries me is:

“There have, however, been signs that spammers are turning to alternative methods to e-mail for distributing their messages – such as Facebook and Twitter……”

Let’s hope not!

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