Spam will overhaul legitimate e-mail by July 2003, according to e-mail managed service provider MessageLabs, a situation highlighted when many workers returned to their computers post-Christmas to e-mail accounts stuffed with spam. The date was determined by statisticians employed by MessageLabs, who extrapolated the current growth of spam and comparing it to the growth of e-mail, which they expect to have doubled by 2007. The research focuses on work e-mail addresses rather than consumer-addresses.
During 2002 one in 12 e-mails passing through MessageLabs' spam and virus filter system was identified as spam. However, during November this surged to one in three e-mails.
"If you don't do anything about it e-mail becomes useless, because everyone gets peeved with it," Paul MacRae, director of MessageLabs told ZDNet Australia.
Many e-mail providers are now looking to combat spam, with one example being Hotmail, which employing the services of anti-spam company Brightmail to reduce the level of spam received by its users.
MacRae believes action needs to be taken, and filtering companies are only part of the solution. "Technology is one way in a gambit of policies, it's not the be-all and end-all," he said. "There needs to be some powerful legislation. There's been a lot of talk, but [spam-prevention] is going down the path of self regulation, which is not necessarily a good thing."
MacRae cites a US legal case in which spammers had been arrested and given jail time because they had not delivered the promised product, falling foul of the US equivalent of the Trade Practices Act. The spammers had received around 24,000 payments after sending out 50 million e-mails, netting just under half a million dollars. MacRae points out if the spammers had sent the information they promised, they would have got away scott-free.
"If it's affordable, and you get those results, and there's no barrier to entry to do it, why would you not keep doing it?" he asked. He described one prospective solution to the spam problem - by charging people to send e-mails - as a "scary concept".