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Dual Curses: Viruses and Spam

Controlling virus and spam epidemics is the top e-mail concern of CIOs, a Ferris Research/Computerworld survey finds.

By Jeff Ubois and Mitch Betts
February 2, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Slammer. Bugbear.B. Blaster. Sobig.F. 2003 was the worst year for virus outbreaks in the 20-year history of computer viruses, declares a report by F-Secure Corp. in San Jose. It was a growth year for spam, too, and by December, 62.7% of all global e-mail was spam, say researchers at U.K.-based MessageLabs Inc.

So it's not surprising that CIOs report that viruses and spam are their biggest concerns regarding e-mail, according to a survey by messaging consultancy Ferris Research Inc. and Computerworld. On a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being "one of my biggest headaches," viruses and spam tied with an average rating of 3.2, leading the list of messaging issues in the survey.


"Viruses and spam? That sounds right to me," says Robert W. Reeg, senior vice president of systems development at MasterCard International Inc. in O'Fallon, Mo., commenting on the survey results. "We've certainly focused on those areas."


The Web-based survey had 60 valid responses from CIOs and other IT managers at the vice president level or higher, so it reflects the thinking of senior executives, not midlevel messaging managers. Instant messaging, for example, ranked as a low concern for these CIOs, but would probably have been a more significant concern for messaging managers.


Anecdotally, IT managers are worried that virus writers are getting faster at exploiting flaws, which raises the specter of zero-day attacks (see story). Last summer's Blaster worm, one of the most virulent and widespread ever, hit the Internet barely a month after Microsoft Corp. released a patch for the software flaw it exploited. A variant called Nachi, carrying a dangerous payload, hit users less than a week later.


Spam ranked as a top concern across all organizations, regardless of their size, industry sector or mail system. The problem affects not only end-user productivity, but also adds administrative chores for the IT organization. A study by Nucleus Research Inc. in Wellesley, Mass., found that IT administrators spend an average of 4.5 hours per week managing spam-related problems (see story). Plus, CIOs may feel under pressure to "fix" the spam problem, which is a major irritant and embarrassment in the workplace.


The next biggest e-mail concern for CIOs is regulatory compliance, which involves two issues: encrypting e-mail to ensure privacy and archiving messages to ensure good record-keeping. As might be expected, these issues were especially important to health care providers and financial services firms, which face the most regulatory scrutiny under new laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Surprisingly, managers in health care report greater concern about archiving than their counterparts in financial services do.




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