The scourge of junk email reached new proportions at the end of 2003 with nearly two out of every three messages sent worldwide being an unwanted advertisement.
The latest statistics from UK-based email filtering company MessageLabs indicate that 62.7 per cent of all global emails sent during December were spam. The company scanned over 463 million messages. In November the figure was 55.1 percent and in October 50.5 percent. In some countries, for example Australia, more than two thirds of all December messages were junk.
Mark Sunner, MessageLabs’ chief technical officer, says this upward trend may soon change the way email is used altogether. “By the mid-point of 2005 email without advanced filtering is going to be almost unusable,” he told New Scientist.
Spam email chokes millions of inboxes every day with offers for everything from stationary to pornography. Spammers are also using ever more sophisticated tricks to foil the filters employed by ISPs and end users to catch spam.
One of the latest methods involves including random text written in white on a white background. This is invisible to most recipients, but confuses filters that look for typical spam text.
Sunner predicts that the next spam battleground will be instant messaging (IM), which is expected to supersede email as the most popular form of internet communication. “As email morphs into IM some of the same problems will morph too,” he says.
The majority of spam comes from computers running unsecured mail servers, known as an “open proxy”. Furthermore, a number of recent computer viruses have been designed to convert infected machines into open proxies.
The seemingly inexorable rise in spam suggests recent legislation introduced in the US and Europe aimed at curbing the problem has had little effect.
The US CAN-SPAM Act makes it illegal to send email to people who have opted not to receive such messages, while European Union legislation forbids sending spam to people unless they have asked to receive it.