Study: Amount of spam, virus-infected e-mails rising

A new report analyzing e-mail messages sent last month found that the problem of viruses and unsolicited e-mail continued to grow, hitting manufacturing, banking and finance, and health care particularly hard.

The report, prepared by e-mail security company MessageLabs Ltd., reviewed e-mail messages scanned by the company during the month. MessageLabs scanned 196 million e-mail messages for viruses and 63 million messages as part of its SkyScan AS (Anti-Spam) service. Among the company's findings, released in a statement outlining the study:

  • Spam, as unsolicited e-mail is commonly known, accounted for 17% of the 63 million e-mail messages scanned as part of the antispam service, a 15% increase over August.
  • Spam made up more than a quarter of all e-mail messages sent to companies in the manufacturing and engineering sector using MessageLabs services.
  • The finance and banking, legal and health care industries also recorded high levels of spam, ranging from 9% (banking) to 20% (health care) of all e-mail sent, according to MessageLabs.
  • The number of e-mail messages infected with computer viruses grew 15% from August to September, accounting for about 1 million or one half of 1% of the 196 million e-mail messages scanned by MessageLabs. Of those, more than half were attributed to one virus, Klez.h.

Companies in the leisure and retail industries were most often targeted by virus-laden e-mail, with almost 2% of all incoming e-mail messages infected. Computer systems operated by city and local governments were also found to be common targets of e-mail viruses.

In contrast, computer systems operated by state and federal government along with companies in the legal and construction sectors were the least likely to be the targets of computer viruses, according to the figures compiled by MessageLabs.

Increased spam could have an adverse affect on productivity in the targeted sectors if employees become bogged down by excessive unsolicited messages, MessageLabs warned.

But others in the computer security industry aren't so sure that spam is as big a threat to productivity as the report suggests.

"I think most people look for e-mail messages from people who they already know and read those first," said Russ Cooper, surgeon general at TruSecure Corp. in Herndon, Va. "They get back to those other e-mail messages when they have time, so either they're going to take a break and get coffee, or they'll read through their in-box."

Cooper agreed that the proliferation of spam is a problem and pointed to the decentralized nature of the Internet and increased use of free, Web-based e-mail accounts as two reasons there is more spam.

To solve the problem, he recommended a coordinated approach.

"We have a problem in that we don't have a sophisticated system for dealing with [spam]. Internet service providers need to solve it with a peering arrangement in which people caught spamming will be shut out," he said.

MessageLabs is part of Start Technology Group Ltd. of Gloucester, England. Officials at the company couldn't be reached for comment on the study.

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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