Safe and Spam Free?

Privacy and security--more and more, people are concerned about how to maintain or improve these in virtually all aspects of life. Yet earlier this month a major flaw, one that would allow unauthorized users to gain access, was uncovered in Sendmail, a popular email program used by businesses worldwide. The flaw, found by Internet Security Systems, a firm that specializes in protecting networks, is part of a larger problem for businesses and users alike.

Even conservative estimates reflect that spam comprises a huge percentage of all email sent across the Internet each year. According to estimates by Ferris Research, dealing with spam will cost U.S. organizations $10 billion in 2003.

On the surface dealing with spam seems simple: Just delete the offending messages. Or better yet, install spam-blocking software. Companies like Junkbusters Corp. and Brightmail specialize in providing software that is designed to block spam from getting into email accounts. Of course, for every new method of blocking spam there seems to be a new way of circumventing established protocols.

"We're seeing a slow degradation of the medium," says Jason Catlett, founder of Junkbusters. "Many people don't get on the Internet or abandon it, because they don't like the trash that they see."

Anyone hoping for a legal solution to this problem shouldn't hold his breath. Yes, there are antispam laws on the books in 26 states, but thanks to lobbying by both large Internet retailers and the very profitable direct-marketing industry, a federal law against spam is far off the horizon.

Despite their support against a federal spam law, Internet and marketing companies have the most to lose from spam. Email marketing is still profitable: Jupiter Research reports that e-marketing was a $1.4 billion business last year.

If spam becomes defined as any unsolicited email message, then most email direct and indirect marketing companies would be in big trouble, since most operate on an opt-out business strategy. Trying to gain permission from the mass of email addresses prior to sending out advertisements and offers would be almost impossible, and these companies might have to shut down. Careful legislation is needed for email marketing companies to stay in business, but still eliminate the virus and scam emails from invading inboxes around the world.

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