Spam Wars Make Strange Bedfellows

Thursday, 6 March 2003, 12:25 PM EST

Ask two Internet users a question and you'll get three opinions, all of them fiery, heartfelt, and contradictory... unless the subject is unsolicited commercial e-mail. The only difference of opinion on spam will be who gets first crack at the cretins who send it out.

The situation is so bad that the engineers in the Internet Research Task Force have formed an Anti-Spam Research Group to explore solutions to the problem. When the heavy hitters of Internet architecture get together to solve a problem, you can be sure that it's serious.

Many statistics, and my own personal experience, indicate that spam is nearly half of all e-mail traffic today -- and that number is only going up. Robert Banz, technical architect at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), tells me that last week spam made up 43% of the university's 885,000 e-mail messages.

Finding and tagging or blocking spam wastes a lot of system administrator time: in addition to denying all SMTP access to particular well-established offenders, sysadmins must also build and test new versions of anti-spam software, and integrate these programs into existing e-mail architectures. Once you add in the time spent researching new anti-spam approaches and packages, writing documentation, and supporting users, spam can take a huge toll on a sysadmin's productivity.

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