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Spam deletion costs big bucks for businesses

What is spam? Simply put, it's the unsolicited e-mail that we each receive daily. Whether it's a college degree in two days, a mortgage at 5 points below the market (yeah, right), or discount prescription drugs, we all know what spam is. What we don't consider, but should, is how much spam costs us each year.

In 2002, the Washington Post reported:

“Roughly 40 percent of all e-mail traffic in the United States is spam, up from 8 percent in late 2001 and nearly doubling in the past six months. By the end of this year, industry experts predict, fully half of all e-mail will be unsolicited.”

According to Ferris Research Inc., a San Francisco consulting group, spam cost U.S. organizations more than $10 billion in 2002. The figure includes lost productivity and the additional equipment, software and manpower needed to combat the problem.

That was 2002. In 2005, the Associated Press reported a University of Maryland study about the cost of spam to businesses in the United States. The article stated:

“Time wasted deleting junk e-mail costs American businesses nearly $22 billion a year.”

A telephone-based survey of adults who use the Internet found that more than three-quarters receive spam daily. The average number of spam messages received per day is 18.5 and the average time spent per day deleting them is 2.8 minutes.

The loss in productivity is equivalent to $21.6 billion per year at average U.S. wages, according to the National Technology Readiness Survey produced by Rockbridge Associates, Inc., and the Center for Excellence in Service at Maryland's business school.

Many of us get upwards of 100 spam per day. Imagine the cost in 2007 terms! I would guess the dollar cost to businesses in 2007 will exceed $40 billion!

Spam's strain on businesses and corporations is not just in lost productivity, which some companies report can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. It also steals from bandwidth, network storage and end-user support. And the cost of spam doesn't stop there, considering the potential damage to a corporation's brand or possible litigation arising from the exchange or receipt of questionable e-mail.

Quantify costs

When considering the true costs of spam you need to examine four key areas:

  • Productivity
  • Bandwidth
  • Storage
  • Help desk support
  • While lost productivity is an obvious area where spam takes its toll, users shouldn't ignore that spam can consume up to 11 percent of a company's bandwidth and up to 100GB or more of storage each year. Spam also can generate up to five extra help desk calls per day, per 100 users, which can mandate the need for extra services from your IT consultant.

    There are also hidden costs passed on to users by ISPs that must invest in additional hardware and personnel to handle the vast amounts of spam. People have to pay money for the dubious privilege of receiving all this spam.

    The toll this stuff takes adds up—in terms of time and money.

    According to a survey conducted earlier this year by ChooseYourMail.com, pornographers are responsible for 30.2 percent of the spam on the Net today. Just behind them are the “Get Rich Quick” scam artists, who send about 29.6 percent of the spam. The remainder advertise assorted products and services; a small percentage illegally offer stock tips (for junk stocks of dubious value).

    What can you do about it?

    If you are using Outlook as your e-mail client, follow these guidelines to help lower your risk of getting spam.

    1. Take advantage of the junk e-mail filter in Outlook 2003. The junk e-mail filter uses state-of-the-art technology developed by Microsoft Research to evaluate whether a message, including advanced analysis of the words and structure of the message, to determine the probability that it is junk e-mail.

    2. Increase your protection level as you need. To obtain the maximum protection possible from using the junk e-mail filter and other enhanced privacy features, set the protection level of the junk e-mail filter to high or to safe lists only.

    3. Keep your junk e-mail filter updated.

    4. Block images in HTML messages that spammers use as Web beacons. To verify what your automatic download settings are, on the Tools menu, click Options. Click the Security tab, and then click Change Automatic Download Settings. Verify that the Don't download pictures or other content automatically in HTML e-mail check box is selected.

    5. Turn off automatic processing of meeting requests and read and delivery receipts.

    6. Limit where you post your e-mail address.

    7. Watch out for check boxes that are already selected. When you buy things online, companies sometimes add a check box (already selected) to indicate that it is fine to sell or give your e-mail address to other businesses. Clear the check box so that your e-mail address won't be shared.

    8. Don't reply to spam. Don't reply even to unsubscribe unless you know and trust the sender. Answering spam just confirms that your e-mail address is live.

    9. If a company uses e-mail messages to ask for personal information, don't respond by sending a message. Most legitimate companies will not ask for personal information in e-mail. Be suspicious if they do.

    10. Don't forward chain e-mail messages. Besides causing more traffic over the line, forwarding a chain e-mail message might be furthering a hoax, and you lose control over who sees your e-mail address.

    Lastly, visit with your IT staff or consultant. There are spam blocking appliances available, as well as subscription services to block spam. Some of these subscription services cost as little as $20 per month. These will typically block 95 percent of the spam inbound for your business. These options should be considered as part of your overall anti-spam strategy.

    Ultimately, spam is here to say, just as the countless catalogs we each get daily from the U.S. Postal Service. Another constant with spam is that it costs us money, lots of it. We need to do something about it. Fight back against the spammers, and save your business a substantial amount of money in the process.

    — Jeff Facer is president and CEO of Area-Wide Technologies in Champaign. He can be reached at 217-359-8041 or jfacer@areawidetech.com.

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