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Spam rates rise; will legal tactics improve?

Well over four-fifths of e-mail is junk; gangs square off

By Paul Meller
November 27, 2006 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - The European Commission has urged its member states to beef up their efforts to cut spam, spyware and malicious software, after research showed that up to 85% of all e-mail received in the European Union is unsolicited.

Better cooperation with enforcement authorities from other countries, including countries outside the Union, is essential to defeat the spammers, the commission said, noting that the The U.S. and the EU have agreed to tackle spam through joint enforcement initiatives.

Research from such organizations as Spamhaus indicates that four-fifths of all spam can be traced to 200 criminal gangs operating internationally. The U.S. remains the single biggest source of spam, accounting for 22% of all spam received in the EU, the commission said. China is the second-largest source, accounting for 13%. France and South Korea rank joint third at 6%.

And the gross numbers are rising rapidly. E-mail security company Postini notes a major upsurge in spam volumes as the holidays approach. That firm says it has spotted 7 billion spam e-mails in November, up from 2.5 billion in June.

Most experts point to not only the holidays but the increased deployment of home-computer botnets. Image-based spam is more common as spam messages including texts from classic books -- the latter an approach designed to fool flters looking for keywords.

Last year, Ferris Research estimated spam to cost over $51 billion worldwide, while fellow researcher Computer Economics calculated malicious software to cost $14.4 billion worldwide. Research published last year suggests that this works out to $1,000 per employee per year in lost productivity and higher computing bills.

The EU study's findings (PDF format ) come four years after the European Commission adopted antispam legislation in the form of the e-privacy directive. "It is time to turn the repeated political concern about spam into concrete actions to fight spam," Viviane Reding, the commissioner for Information Society and Media, said in a statement on Monday.

If there is no improvement by this time next year, Reding will consider introducing new legislative measures to fight the scourge, she said.

She pointed to the Netherlands as an example of how the current legal regime can be used to cut spam. Holland’s spam-busting unit, known by the initials OPTA, has just five full-time staff and $747,000 worth of equipment, but it has succeeded in cutting spam by 85%. "I'd like to see other countries achieving similar results through more efficient enforcement," Reding said.

Finland was also singled out for praise. A filtering system there has cut the amount of spam to 30% of all e-mail, from 80% two years ago, the commission said.

"We encourage other countries in the Union to develop similar filtering means," said Martin Selmayr, Reding’s spokesman, at a press conference Monday.

Additional reporting from Reuters' Peter Griffiths.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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