Is IT Winning Battle Against Spam?

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About two in five companies report that they're winning their battle against spam. And one analyst says it's a battle that companies will be increasingly winning.

''I think the problem with spam will be solved in relatively short order,'' says Michael Osterman, Osterman Research, Inc. based in Black Diamond, Wa. ''In July we did a survey and 10 percent of organizations said spam is a minor problem for them... If you ask that question next year, I'd say the percentage will go up to 25 or 30 percent.''

Osterman's optimism, however, may not be very widespread.

Spam set a new record in this past June, accounting for nine out of every 10 emails in the United States. Around the globe, spam grew to account for 76 percent of all email traveling the Internet, according to statistics from MessageLabs, Inc., an email management and security company based in New York. That number is up from 60 percent at the beginning of the year.

Osterman Research conducted two separate studies on email security last month. The survey shows that ''almost all'' organizations have had a virus, worm or other malicious content entered into their network through email. And one in six report getting malware through instant messaging programs.

The study also finds that IT administrators and email managers say the most serious problems they face -- in order -- are spam, growth in email storage requirements, supporting remote users and inadequate email archiving.

''If you look at the emphasis of where people are putting their dollars, it's really still very much on spam,'' says Osterman. ''Tools have been out now with good spam capabilities, but we're finding the performance of systems getting worse over time.''

Osterman explains that even if a filter is keeping out 95 percent of all spam being sent to email addresses within the company, the amount of junk mail getting through is growing every year simply because the volume of spam being sent is growing. ''Say last year you got a 100,0000 messages a day and you captured 95 percent of them, and 5 percent got through,'' says Osterman. ''Now you're getting 125,000 spams a day. That 5 percent now represents a larger number of spams getting through -- 6,250 compared to 5,000 the previous year.''

And Osterman says his survey shows that most IT administrators, particularly those at medium or large companies, say hope of beating back spam does not lie with legislation. The hope, he says, lies in spam filters.

Filters are the key to fending off the influx of spam but they only work well if they are constantly updated, according to Osterman.

''Spam will become less of a problem primarily due to improvements to spam filters,'' he adds. ''I don't think spammers will go away and I don't think it'll have much to do with legislation.''

But filters aren't something you can implement and forget. ''If you implement a technology and let it sit there, it will degrade over time,'' Osterman says. ''You need to update the software, just like you do with anti-virus programs. The spam capturing efficiency can actually get better over time.''

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