Get IT Done: Microsoft takes aim at spammers with lawsuits

Microsoft takes an aggressive approach against spam by filing lawsuits

According to the Radicate Group, worldwide corporate losses caused by unwanted, unsolicited e-mail will approach $198 billion per year by 2007. Another firm, Nucleus Research, recently conducted a number of surveys to help determine the effect of spam on employee productivity. After interviewing 117 employees at 76 U.S. companies and 28 IT administrators responsible for managing e-mail and other corporate applications, Nucleus Research determined that:
  • The average employee receives 13.3 spam messages per day.
  • Time spent per person managing spam ranges from one minute to 90 minutes per day, with an average of 6.5 minutes.
  • In 2003, the average company will lose one out of every 72 employees' productivity to spam.
  • Companywide spam filters reduce the productivity loss by 26 percent.

Nucleus claims that spam causes an average loss of productivity per person per year of 1.4 percent and an average cost of spam per employee per year of $874. By Nucleus’ numbers, a corporation with 10,000 employees would lose nearly $9 million per year in employee productivity. Add the costs of combating spam, and you quickly get to Radicate's worldwide number of nearly $200 billion per year.

To help combat this growing problem, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced on June 16 in a bulk e-mail to 75,000 customers that Microsoft is supporting a number of antispam initiatives and is leveling 15 lawsuits against spammers in the United States and Europe. The lawsuits target spammers who target Microsoft's customers. The U.S. lawsuits are against firms that Microsoft claims flooded its customers with more than 2 billion deceptive spam messages.

But if you think these lawsuits alone will stem the tide of spam, think again. Gartner published a brief on June 25, "Microsoft's Lawsuits Help but Won't Eliminate Spam," in which the firm claims that, "Enterprises and consumers may witness a reduction of spam, but it won't result from legislative actions." The article also praises Microsoft for being a leader in the fight on spam. According to Gartner:
  • "Microsoft gains widespread credibility as an anti-spam champion, which contributes directly to promoting its Trustworthy Computing initiative."
  • "Microsoft has already begun an initiative to deal with spam. In April 2003, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and Earthlink formed a working committee through which they agreed to focus on best practices and technical standards for reducing spam and to pool information about known spammers, which resulted in the blacklisting of major spammers.”
  • "Microsoft and other technology companies advocate self-regulation for most Internet-related issues. They fear that without proactive measures, the spam problem may result in restrictive laws around the use of e-mail for marketing and customer service."

Why doesn't Gartner believe that the Microsoft lawsuits will have much effect on spam? It claims that “national and state regulation merely causes spammers to relay spam through offshore Internet service providers. Any lawsuits against spammers, especially those overseas, must face the complexities of establishing jurisdiction and the foreign recognition of judgments."

So what's the answer to reducing spam? Gates stated in his e-mail that, "as we develop new technologies, stemming the tide of spam will require a multifaceted approach that includes industry self-regulation, effective and appropriate legislation, and targeted enforcement against the most egregious spammers." Gartner agrees with Gates' assessment and claims that "consortia undertaking technology and research initiatives hold the most promise for slowing down spam, but it will take until at least 2006 before enterprises see the benefit."

What should companies do in the meantime? Gartner offers a number of recommendations:
  • "Carefully negotiate licensing deals. The market for enterprise anti-spam products and services is already consolidating and prices will fall significantly through 2004."
  • "Evaluate multiple anti-spam approaches, such as outsourcing, appliances, and open-source software in addition to commercial licensed software."
  • "Select enterprise anti-spam products that support multiple detection methods (such as signature-based methods, heuristics, and Bayesian filtering), user management (such as whitelists, blacklists and quarantines), and granular policies."
  • "Educate users in spam avoidance techniques."
  • "Account for business practices before deploying anti-spam technologies."

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