With UK government legislation doing little to impede the relentless rise of spam, businesses are increasingly turning to software to keep mail systems functioning. Brightmail, recently acquired by security specialist Symantec, is a market leader in the spam-filtering industry, and is expected to announce a major upgrade of its software in the next few weeks.
ZDNet UK spoke to Mark Bruno, Brightmail's enterprise product manager, about how his company is keeping pace with new spamming tactics, the rise of SMS spam and the significance of the Symantec deal.
How has spam evolved since you joined the industry?
Originally spam was all ASCII text and we blocked it by comparing emails against known spam signatures. Then spammers started "hashing" -- changing one of two characters of the signature to avoid us picking it up, such as replacing the letter i with the letter l or the number 1. We block these emails by doing fuzzy matching.
The use of URLs has also evolved. Spam messages used to contain phone or fax numbers; nowadays, they have URLs directing you to a Web site. These URLs shortened messages, and that gave us less to create our signatures with. We started blocking messages with URLs in July last year, to which spammers responded by masking URLs.
We constantly monitor any changes in spam by using "honey pots" -- unused email addresses which we advertise on sites that spammers are known to use. We have more than two million "honey pots" and receive about 100 billion spam emails every month.
Why has the volume of spam increased so dramatically?
Because it is lucrative and easy to do. When I joined Brightmail three years ago, 8 percent of emails were spam. Now 64 percent of emails are spam.
Spammers earn anything from a few hundred thousand to a few million US dollars a year. It doesn't require technical expertise either -- you can buy spamming software that will do the hashing and encrypting URLs, and can buy a CD-ROM with 100 million email addresses for $100.
What will the future of spam look like?
Spam will become more and more sophisticated and will be seen in new mediums. Although our main focus is corporate and consumer spam, we are also moving into technologies to fight instant-messaging and wireless spam. Right now, SMS spam isn't a big problem in the UK, but this is likely to change -- there is already a high level of SMS spam in Japan, where the technology was taken up earlier.