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Spam Battle Plans

Companies are relying on multilevel spam-fighting strategies that include e-mail filtering tools, blacklist services and employee education.

By Kym Gilhooly
July 28, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Impotency drugs and underdeveloped body parts may have become big jokes in anecdotes about spam, but they're no laughing matter to Joshua Elicio, director of information security at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, N.M. While words like Viagra and penis seem like obvious triggers for spam filters, it's not so simple when you're a teaching hospital where material on pharmaceuticals and anatomy are a mainstay to business.

For Michelle Boggess, electronic data security coordinator for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) project office at Baptist Health Care System in Pensacola, Fla., the story is much the same. "We get e-mail from the Centers for Disease Control, so we see things that those in the banking industry don't need to worry about. Anything from the CDC is 'whitelisted,' and we let [questionable e-mail] fall into quarantine rather than automatically deleting it." For spam filtering, Baptist uses IronMail from Alpharetta, Ga.-based CipherTrust Inc.

Spam Battle Plans
Credit: Plankton Art

Elicio's and Boggess' e-mail filtering challenges highlight the balancing act that IT professionals must perform as they attempt to deal with the onslaught of spam. They have to thwart the tremendous amount of annoying—and often offensive—junk e-mail that's infiltrating their companies and simultaneously ensure that critical business information gets through. Their ongoing and escalating battle requires them to continually fine-tune their spam-fighting strategies as spammers become more aggressive and creative.

"Enterprises have seen spam become a major problem in the past six to nine months," says Arabella Hallawell, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "This has become a huge problem for the IT organization. At the beginning of the year, 30% of business e-mail was spam, and now, just a few months later, it's over 50%."

"Spam was once viewed as an annoyance, but it's now doing real harm to corporations," says George Tillmann, vice president and CIO at Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc. in McLean, Va. "Spammers are no longer merely annoying marketers—they're predators."

According to Ferris Research in San Francisco, spam cost U.S. corporations $8.9 billion in 2002, a figure that's expected to rise to $10 billion by the end this year.

"When you look at the costs of spam, there are three key elements: loss of productivity, cost incurred by the help desk when fielding calls about spam, and infrastructure costs, such as adding servers, bandwidth and administration," says Martin Nelson, an analyst at Ferris.

The good news, says Hallawell, is that high-level executives, as inundated as everyone else, are responding with the necessary cash. "Budgets are being released to deal with the spam problem for three reasons: the visibility of the problem, the costs of dealing with all the spam, and the fact that a lot of the content is really obscene," she says.

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