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'Spam' Gives Rise to Businesses that Filter Unwanted Mail, Viruses - 2002-07-05

When a need arises, businesses will spring up to meet the need. Huge increases in 'spam,' that is unsolicited advertisements and other messages sent over the Internet, have given rise to a host of new companies in the business of eliminating it.

Most of the spam fighters operate like "virtual" security guards, weeding out spam as it attempts to enter a company's e-mail network.

Tumbleweed, for example, is a company that specializes in making sure that electronic communications between companies and customers are kept private, and that viruses and spam are both kept out of corporate E-mail.

Project manager Joe Fisher said spam has accelerated so much recently that as much as 25 percent of a typical company's e-mail these days consists of spam advertisements, pornography, and other unwanted messages.

"You can imagine, an organization that receives about a million messages a day, they're seeing close to a quarter of a million messages a day hitting their enterprise that are primarily spam. That chews up a lot of network bandwidth. A lot of employee productivity time is spent. It doesn't help the business," he said.

That's why companies hire firms like Tumbleweed to stop the spam from getting through the gateway.

"We have an intelligent gateway base-solution that actually looks at this traffic, and picks it off before it gets to the end user, by looking at the content and the identity of that communication," Mr. Fisher said.

Harvey Mudd College computer science professor Geoff Kuenning said senders of spam are relentless in their pursuit of e-mail addresses. "Any time your e-mail address is placed on the Internet in a way that the general public will get it, there is a good chance that a spam harvester will find it. Once they get those addresses, they exchange them with each other. There's quite a business in selling lists of valid e-mail addresses," Mr. Kuenning said.

Why are senders of spam so prevalent? Because, Geoff Kuenning said, it is an effective way of advertising. "If you send out 100-million e-mail messages, and you get a fraction of a percent in answers, you are still talking about 40-to-50,000 contacts or sales. You can make a significant amount of money," he said.

Especially, when you take into consideration that you can send out 100-million e-mail messages in little time and at minimal or no cost.