Junk email: No relief in sight for the spammed

The average number of spam emails continued to increase in April, with one company finding that 99.8 percent of all incoming emails were spam

There is no sign of relief for companies already overwhelmed by the sheer volume of unsolicited and unwanted email messages clogging their mail systems. Email security firm MessageLabs' filtering statistics for April, which were published on Monday, show that 67.6 percent of all global email traffic is spam.

MessageLabs said it scanned 840 million email messages in April and found that 97 percent of spam is aimed at five countries: the US, the UK, Germany, Australia and Hong Kong. The US has the worst problem, with 83 percent of messages being classified as spam, while in the UK that figure stands at 53 percent.

Mark Sunner, chief technology officer at MessageLabs, said that although the US has the worst overall spam problem, the increasing penetration of broadband in the UK could mean similar figures by the end of the year.

"It's only a matter of time until the UK falls victim to similar volumes of spam. When it comes to the Internet, when the US sneezes, the rest of us catch a cold," Sunner said.

One small UK company with just six full-time employees claims to have already caught the American spam cold. Vbug, a Microsoft developer support company, which has been running for 10 years and has had a Web site for the past seven years, last month received around 720,000 emails messages, 99.84 percent of which were spam.

Graham Parker, Vbug's chairman, said his employees had to spend more time each day finding the few legitimate emails among this mountain of spam.

Parker suspects Vbug could have been the victim of a malicious spamming campaign, but he concedes that it could be because the same email addresses have been published on the Vbug Web site for so many years.

"Email addresses get harvested from Web sites and then are sold on. We have had our domain for the last seven years and are now in the process of celebrating our tenth birthday," said Parker.

Parker considered changing the company's email addressed to a new domain, but was worried about losing touch with older contacts, so instead signed up Email Systems, a small email-filtering company.

"By changing email addresses, you run the risk of losing contact with people you want to stay in touch with. Instead, we installed our spam filtering system three months ago and it made a dramatic change, overnight," Parker said.

Any filtering software contains the risk that legitimate messages may be filtered out by mistake, but Parker said this is a small price to pay.

"There is an issue with false positives, but to lose the odd email is worth it. It is a no-brainer," Parker said.