Sinking or swimming on spam

commentary Is Australia drowning in spam? The federal government this week lauded the Spam Act 2003 as a "leading legislative model" in fighting unsolicited bulk electronic messaging and claimed "many professional spammers that had been based in Australia have either shut up shop or left the country".

commentary Is Australia drowning in spam?
Iain Ferguson, News Editor, ZDNet Australia

The federal government this week lauded the Spam Act 2003 as a "leading legislative model" in fighting unsolicited bulk electronic messaging and claimed "many professional spammers that had been based in Australia have either shut up shop or left the country".

However, Australian legislation can at best have only a minimal impact on spam being sent to Australians. The vast majority of such messages come from overseas.

A discussion paper released to prompt public input into a government review of the Act notes that spam is continuing to increase as a percentage of global e-mail, despite improvements to filtering systems.

Spam e-mail also continues to migrate swiftly from a vehicle for badly worded direct marketing promotions to a carrier for phishing scams and malicious code such as viruses or Trojans.

Exemplifying this problem is the spread of the latest variant of the Sober virus -- with a new global epidemic predicted for 5 January -- and the severe strain it is expected to place on mail servers.

While the sheer volume of messages is a problem, the growing sophistication of e-mail scamming is presenting a greater threat -- particularly the practice of so-called "spear-phishing," whereby recipients are targeted individually rather than via a mass mail-out.

On 15 June this year, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission warned that phishing scams were becoming a serious problem and that complaints had doubled over the previous few months.

In addition to these worrying trends, according to the government's discussion paper, mobile text messages are becoming more of a problem. In Australia, complaints over mobile text message spam now accounts for 10 percent of complaints referred to the Australian Communications and Multimedia Authority (ACMA).

The government is making an effort to fight the impact of these trends on Australians through memoranda of understanding and collaboration with countries such as Korea, but the fact is the problem will continue to grow unless there is a real will and commitment on behalf of authorities worldwide.

Even then, the ease with which individuals can distribute spam -- with malicious intent or otherwise -- means the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. The unpalatable truth is, heading into the new year, spam and its associated malicious payloads are going to be a tax on business and a headache for users in Australia well into the foreseeable future.

What do you think? Is Australia winning the spam war or are we sinking under a morass of increasingly malicious e-mails compromising our systems or searching with ever-increasing efficiency for our personal financial details? How can we fight back? E-mail us at edit@zdnet.com.au and give us your thoughts.

Iain Ferguson is the News Editor of ZDNet Australia.

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