How much does spam weigh? (And what to do about it)
Often when meet and talk with our customers and partners, I hear some of the same concerns that impact their satisfaction with our products and services: PC security, quality and reliability of our products, and issues with email around spam and phsihing. Starting this weekend I am posting more info, tips and feedback on how we're meeting some of these issues. I kicked it off on Friday with my reference to the anti-spyware addition to OneCare, and yesterday on Windows Defender.
Today, it's about email and how to reduce spam.
First, just how much of a problem is this?
Microsoft IT reported in 2005 that the company received about 10 million e-mails per day via the Internet, with up to 90 percent filtered out as spam. In addition, a recent report cited that the company blocks more than 3.4 billion spam messages per day from reaching the inboxes of MSN Hotmail customers.
On an individual level, I read that average person gets only 1.5 personal letters each week, compared to 10.8 pieces of postal junk mail. This amounts to 560 pieces of junk mail per year per person. Recent research estimates that 80 percent or more of all e-mail sent these days is spam. In 2004, enterprise users reported receiving an average of 29 unsolicited messages a day, more than a four fold increase from 6.2 spam messages per day in 2002, and 3.7 messages in 2001.
So, how do spammers get your address? A couple of years ago, the The Center for Democracy and Technology released a report on their six month study, "Why Am I Getting All This Spam?" They found that e-mail addresses posted on web sites or in newsgroups attract the most spam, as spammers most often harvest addresses from the web. Just like the big search engines, spammers have automated web bots (called 'spiders') collect as many email addresses as possible from web sites. (Here's a link with more details on how spammers get addresses.)
Now let's make this personal.
A month or so ago, after grumbling about how much of our curb-side recycling was junk mail, I decided to take a closer look at what we receive in the post. And over the last couple of weeks, I kept a running total of how much mail we received at home, counting the number of pieces of mail and the aggregate weight. (Yes, my wife questioned my sanity, but I explained that it's all in the effort to improve customer satisfaction.) I divided what we received into two piles: mail we wanted or had requested (bills, notices and the occasional letter) and mail that was junk (flyers, catalogues, credit card offers, solicitations from companies we'd never heard of before...).
Over the course of two weeks, we collected a little more than the reported national averages:
- 36 pieces of mail, totaling 2 lb 6oz (or about 63 pounds a year), and
- 80 pieces of junk mail, totaling 10 lb 6.6oz (a little more than 270 lbs per year)
Now that doesn't sound like much, but in comparison let's look what came in just to my personal email address at home: 232 pieces of junk mail. That's 149 caught by my Outlook spam filter and 83 snagged by my internet service provider. If that junk email were junk postal mail filling my post box, it would weigh close to 31 pounds. Over the course of a year, we're looking at more than 6,000 junk emails, at a total weight of about 792 pounds.
At an average of two to three seconds per email, that's at least four to five hours of my life a year just deleting spam mail (and that estimate is on the low side).
- Turn off auto return receipt acknowledgement: Some spammers put a "delivery" or "read" receipt request in their e-mails. If your e-mail program (or mail server) automatically confirms these receipt requests you will just be confirming your address is valid (= MORE SPAM). We would recommend you either turn this feature off or make sure it is set to "prompt" first before sending.
For information on how to do this in Outlook, read Change automatic response to read receipts.
We also have a section on our web site, Microsoft Security at Home: E-mail, which provides information and resources to help you reduce the risks of spam, viruses, identity-theft schemes, and hoaxes, while enjoying the benefits of email.
- Stopping spam with the Junk E-mail Filter in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003
- Microsoft home magazine article on "spam proofing your in-box"
- Bill Gates' 1998 column on spam
- More in the Wikipedia on E-mail spam
- For more on how vendors and governments are fighting spam, check out eWEEK's Special Report on Canning Spam.
- For more on stopping unwanted printed junk mail, visit the The Direct Marketing Association Consumer Assistance site and The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.