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Spam in 2006: conclusions and forecasts

The whole history of spam looks very much like the arms race during the Cold War. From the very beginning when unsolicited messages started to appear in mail boxes, more and more measures have been taken to stop the growth of spam. However spammers refuse to give up and for every anti-spam restriction or software they find a way to avoid it.

Spam filters' inability to improve the situation has resulted in appearance of many alternative ideas, sometimes quite exotic, about how to stop the spam. For instance, in 2005 Bill Gates said that it would be possible to finish with spam already in 2006 if all the e-mail providers introduced a fee for sending messages. According to Gates' idea a small fee for an e-mail message would be negligible for ordinary users while for spammers who send millions of letters every day it would be devastating.

However there were some attempts to introduce fees for sending e-mails they did not have any significant influence on the whole situation. Many skeptics predicted that this idea would satisfy neither e-mail providers nor users and that was the reality - Gates idea failed having been rejected by the majority of both.

Also the performance of the latest spam recognition techniques seems to be quite disappointing. If we consider such technologies as Smart RBL or Distributed Checksum Clearing House (DCC) then spam filters using them quite often fail to distinguish spam/non-spam messages correctly and as a result legitimate e-mails are blocked while junk passes through to Inbox.

At the same time, more legislative measures are introduced aimed against spam spread and there are more and more countries where spamming is recognized as a crime. In 2006 Russia became one of them when the federal law "On advertising" was passed and came into force. This is very important for other countries as well because Russia is still one of the main sources of spam.

However in reality these numerous legislative anti-spam measures have only an insignificant effect. Sometimes, when even names and locations of spammers (like, for example, for the top 10 the most active spammers) are known it is can be extremely difficult to catch them and then to find supportive documentary data that could be used in court.

The precise localization of a spam source is quite complex because many spammers now are using so-called "zombi"-computers to send spam letters. These are computers of users who do not care properly about the security. In this case the computers can be quite easily accessed by skilful spammers while the users have absolutely no idea that their computers are used for crime.

Putting this all together we have quite sad results: in 2006 the percentage of spam in the total amount of e-mail traffic stayed at the same high level of 70-80% while the physical amount (in GB) was growing with the increase of the number of Internet users and the number of e-mail messages sent.

Considering the subjects of spam e-mail in 2006 we can say that they are quite various but the definite leader is the promotion of various medicines mostly related to sexual activity, such as Viagra or its analogues. What looks particularly dangerous is the increasing number of fraud e-mail messages. These messages are very often look like private correspondence or some popular SMS-services, so the recipients must be especially careful.

To conclude we have to admit that in 2006 the situation with spam got much worse than it had been predicted before and at the moment there are no encouraging signs that could give some cause for optimism in the nearest future. "Arms race" is continuing and so far spammers have not shown any signs of exhaustion.

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About the Author: Mike Grunch, Tech Writer at LuxContinent.
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