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Friday 30, Jul 2004RSS Feed
The Herald-Mail Co. Business Review Interviews Dave Hall on SPAM
The Herald-Mail Co. Business Review
The battle against spam

By JULIE E. GREENE julieg@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO When small business owner Matt McTigue opens his Hotmail e-mail account on his Dell laptop in the morning, it's not unusual for him to find about 40 to 50 junk e-mails.

Thankfully, that's not McTigue's main e-mail account for the computer service and support business NMDS that he runs out of his home near Boonsboro.

After experiencing problems a few years ago with junk e-mail or spam, McTigue got wise to some anti-spam strategies to counteract the continuing cleverness of spammers.

The average lost productivity per year per employee caused by unsolicited junk e-mail is 3.1 percent, up from 1.4 percent in 2003, according to a study conducted by Nucleus Research. The study was done by interviewing employees at 82 Fortune 500 companies and information technology administrators responsible for managing e-mail, according to a news release at the independent global research and advisory firm's Web site.

The average employee receives almost 7,500 spam messages a year, according to the study done by the Wellesley, Mass.-based company.

Filtering services

Keller-Stonebraker Insurance off Eastern Boulevard subscribes to an online filtering service called EasyLink that all inbound and outbound e-mails go through, said Mac Hutto, operations manager with the insurance firm.

The firm started using the service three years ago to protect against viruses, but later it became useful to filter out spam, Hutto said.

The messages filtered out can be deleted or quarantined. To make sure a legitimate message isn't lost, a notice can be sent to the employee the message was addressed to that states the subject, date, time and e-mail address of the sender so the employee can decide whether to have that message fished out of quarantine.

Hutto said he removes about 20 messages a day from quarantine at employees' requests.

After a spam security appliance was installed for Washington County government on July 12, Information Technology Director Ron Whitt said he was able to determine spam had been costing the county $68 a day in lost productivity.

That's because the device blocked 2,026 spam messages within the first 24 hours, Whitt said.

The county got the device on a trial basis, but after the early success Whitt said the county probably will keep it.

The device cost $1,400, plus a $300 annual subscription cost for the list of known spammers and viruses. Whitt said the device will pay for itself in less than a month.

Other solutions

Smaller companies probably cannot afford the solutions bigger businesses and governments use.

E-mail is 菟retty important for McTigue's one-man operation because some customers prefer to communicate via e-mail and expect quick responses. So he has found other solutions.

One is multiple e-mail accounts.

McTigue set up the free Hotmail account to prevent his main work account from getting overwhelmed with spam. He almost always uses his Hotmail address when an e-mail address is required to fill out an online form or any application.

His third main e-mail account is an older one that used to be his main account until it started accumulating a lot of spam after he hit the 砥nsubscribe option on some junk e-mails. Hitting unsubscribe backfired because it let the spammer know the account was active.

McTigue still checks that account to see if any legitimate e-mails from family, friends and business associates have arrived.

Another thing small business operators can do is ask their Internet service provider (ISP) to filter out spam, which might cost extra, McTigue said.

McTigue also filters out spam using message rules on his e-mail software. Many people don't realize they have that option, he said.

Message rules allow the computer users to select specific words or domain names that appear in the sender's e-mail address, the subject line or message body that they want filtered out. Users can decide whether they want those messages deleted or put in a separate folder.

Getting around filters

This can catch some spam, but spammers have become more clever in finding ways to distribute their message. For example, a filter set up to block e-mails with the word Viagra in the subject line won't work if the spammer substitutes an exclamation point for the letter 妬, said Dave Hall, who co-owns DH WEB Inc. in Hagerstown with Dave Henneberger.

DH WEB hosts and develops Web sites and applications for companies, as well as supplies e-mail accounts.

Spam is a huge problem, Hall said.

DH WEB's line of defense starts with filtering e-mail at the server by using lists of known spammers.

的t's like our blacklist, Hall said.

Setting the filter can be difficult because some valid e-mails might get blocked and some customers want what some people would consider spam, he said. One of their customers is a mortgage company and a lot of spam has mortgage in the subject line or body text.

添ou're never going to be 99 percent accurate, Hall said.

The company encourages its customers to use e-mail filters on their end, too, he said. They can use message rules or third-party e-mail filtering software.

全piders' and 蘇arvesters'

Companies that have Web sites that list e-mail accounts are good targets for spam, Hall said.

Spammers send out 都piders or 塗arvesters, which traverse the Web and collect e-mail addresses from Web sites to create spam mailing lists, Hall said.

The big thing now is hijacking others' computers by sending it a virus that uses the victim's computer to send spam, he said. Computer users might not realize it's happening.

Spammers use automated programs to try to find unsecure servers they can hijack, he said. Hall said thousands of attempts a day are made to hijack DH WEB's server, but it is secure.

The advent of high-speed connections such as cable and digital subscriber lines, or DSLs, has made the spam problem worse in recent years because anyone with a cable or DSL connection can send out thousands of messages faster, Hall said.

典he government's going to have to step in, Hall said. Some spam laws have been tried recently, but they've been ineffective, he said.

Spam laws

Maryland's 2002 spam law made it illegal for someone to send e-mail that either uses a third party's Internet domain name or e-mail address without permission, contains false or misleading information about an e-mail's origin or transmission path, or contains false or misleading information in its subject line that can deceive the recipient.

The law leaves it up to consumers to file a civil action for relief, said Assistant Attorney General Steve Sakamoto-Wengel with the Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.

A newer Maryland spam law that goes into effect Oct. 1 provides criminal penalties, Sakamoto-Wengel said.

展e know it will be difficult (to enforce), primarily because these cases can be very resource intensive to track down, Sakamoto-Wengel said. Spammers use multiple servers in several states and countries and sometimes hijack others' computers and e-mail addresses to send spam, he said.

West Virginia's spam law also leaves it up to the consumer to take civil action against spammers, Assistant Attorney General Doug Davis said.

Attempts to reach the Pennsylvania attorney general's office for a copy of the state spam law were unsuccessful.

Last December, Congress passed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, known as the CAN-SPAM Act.

The Federal Trade Commission announced in April it had cracked down on two spam operations. One was based in Detroit and the other operated out of Australia and New Zealand.

Close to home

In late June, federal prosecutors announced that they had charged a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., man with conspiracy in connection with the theft and sale of 92 million screen names while he worked for AOL.

Jason Smathers, 24, had until July 23 to surrender to authorities in New York, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has said.

Authorities allege the software engineer stole screen names while working at AOL in Virginia and sold them to Sean Dunaway, 21, of Las Vegas, in May 2003.

Dunaway then sold the names for $52,000 to people who send junk e-mail, the U.S. Attorney's Office alleged.

的 dealt with a lot of those customers and basically took them off AOL and put them on another ISP, McTigue said.

Some were older women who only used their computers to correspond with family and friends. Now they were getting 20 to 30 e-mails a day that primarily were about sex, pornography and Viagra, McTigue said.

典hey were very unhappy to be getting this stuff, McTigue said.

Copyright 2000

Julie Greene
The Herald-Mail
Hagerstown, MD
301-733-5131, ext. 2320 Gray Line
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