Why Spam is Less Successful – And More Plentiful – Than Ever

As recently as just a few years ago, most email users felt like they were drowning in spam. They’d open up their inbox at work and find that half their messages or more were worthless at best and harmful at worst, and it took a long time to sort out the good messages from the bad.
 
Spam filters have evolved pretty well, so that most businesses behind a corporate firewall – and most home users who engage a major email host like Gmail, Yahoo, or AOL – will find that most of their spam ends up in their junk mail box or gets turned away at the gate to their email server. But even though security researchers and anti-spam forces have really stepped up their game, worldwide spam volumes continue to climb. You’d think that if people stopped responding to spam then it would just eventually … go away, right?
 
If only it were that simple. The fact is that somebody will always click on a spam message. And while spam’s click-through rates have plunged, it can still be a profitable marketing method if it’s deployed in sufficient volumes. In fact, its very diminishing success helps explain why spam is still so ubiquitous. Spammers need to send out more messages to get even minimal results. (For more details on a recent study that calculated the success rate of spam at around 1 in 12 million, check out this article in The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/10/storm_botnet_spam_economics/)
 
Unfortunately, marketing spam – the kind that asks you to visit, say, an online pharmacy for cheap Viagra – is the least of your worries these days. Many of the messages that are clever enough to fool spam filters manage to fool human recipients as well, leading them to click on attachments that carry viruses, or to click on links that lead them to sites that automatically download malware.
 

The take-home message is this: Just because you’re seeing less spam in your inbox doesn’t mean it isn’t still a huge bandwidth hog and a major problem for security researchers. The very success of spam filters and the increasing sophistication of email users has forced spammers to be more creative – and often more harmful – in pursuing what they want, whether it’s online sales or spreading mischief. So stay vigilant, don’t open attachments from unknown senders, don’t click directly on links from unknown senders, run regular system scans, and keep those antivirus and antispyware definitions up to date.

CMIT Anti-Spam filters spam out of your e-mail before it arrives at your mail server or in your inbox. When you combine CMIT Anti-Spam with CMIT Marathon, our managed services program, you get automatic security updates along with your spam filtering — that’s two of the best ways to head off spam at the pass and minimize the damage in the event that you encounter potential security threats.

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