Although the weight-loss management company had problems with spam for years, Jeff Nelson, Jenny Craig's director of technology, says the problem became worse for the company's 3,000 employees in the last year. At the height of the dilemma, almost half of incoming e-mail (including those to Nelson's own e-mail account) was unwanted spam, despite the fact that two IT employees worked full-time to administer in-house spam filters.
Finally this past February, Jenny Craig took a path that many other companies have started to take -- company executives looked for help foiling spammers outside their own IT department. IT heads there hired Postini, a Redwood City, Calif.-based company that offers email security services and virus protection.
According to a recent study by the Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), spam infiltration has dramatically increased in the last few years, reducing the usefulness of e-mail, which has largely become a spam carrier as much as an information carrier.
''It is definite that spammers are getting smarter,'' Mahowald maintains.
And it seems there are a few spam giants who are causing most of the problems.
Mahowald contends that there are about 25 to 30 spam sources that are accountable for 95 percent of the total number of spams each year. Most of these, he says, are involved in illegal businesses.
IDC notes that in a recent survey of 500 businesses, 69 percent report spending part of their budget on anti-spam services or software, and 24 percent planned to install filters within six months. Only the remaining 7 percent had no plans to combat spam.
''Companies are getting smarter because they have to,'' says Mahowald.
The increased demand for e-mail security by companies like Jenny Craig has meant more business for Postini. Postini's bookings and revenues have grown 30 percent per quarter for the last 14 quarters, which translates to 185 percent growth each year, according to Andrew Lochart, Postini's director of product marketing.
Some of the company's 3,700 clients include Merrill Lynch, Ray-o-vac, and maybe a little ironically, the Hormel Food Corp., manufacturer of the food product Spam.
Before hiring Postini, Jenny Craig's Nelson says it took two IT employees working full time to administer the in-house spam filters. Now it is ''light work'' for one IT employee to maintain Postini every day, he adds.
In addition to allowing in too much spam, Jenny Craig's previous in-house filter methods would sometimes erroneously delete important e-mail messages. That means critical emails, possibly regarding financing, customer needs or marketing plans, would be lost. It also means that customers or business partners might be left wondering why they received no response from the company.
''Some people, on occasion, would say, 'Hey, is something wrong with the e-mail' I didn't get something I was supposed to.' And sure enough, we would check and something would be caught [in the filter],'' Nelson says.
Now with Postini's solution in place, questionable e-mail is sent to the IT department, where it's sifted through and some is sent on to the employees. This also has cut down on employees using their e-mail for extraneous personal use.
Lochart says in addition to spam attacks, companies also are battling an increase in direct harvest attacks and 'silent killers', in which a spammer may send a company's server thousands of empty e-mail requests, trying to find an accurate address. This puts an enormous burden on the server because it attempts to create thousands of 'bounce messages' back to the sender, slowing email delivery.
''Spammers are constantly reviving their technique,'' Lochart says. ''It's a cat-and-mouse game.''