Weblogs: Spam

The death of email

Saturday, June 14, 2003

The UK Observer is running an article titled "Sick of spam? Then blame Alan Ralsky. He emails a billion of them a day" where Steve Linford is quoted as saying that with current spam levels and growth email has six months left before complete meltdown.

With the technologies in use to combat spam, it looks like we are not making significant inroads into reducing the amount flowing through our networks. MessageLabs, in their monthly survey of emails, noted that for the first time ever more than 50% of all corporate email is spam, and this figure is up a third from the previous month. This dramatic growth rate is not sustainable and email traffic will collapse if this trend continues.

The irony of spam

Its ironic that email is being destroyed by the very people who are seeking to profit from it. It is also a sense of irony that the very people trying to keep email flowing are the people deeply committed to reducing spam, and keeping email flowing is to the spammers advantage.

So here we have a group of people (spammers) doing so much damage that if unchecked will kill off their vital communications medium - cutting off their lifeblood. And on the opposite side are people fighting to keep the airways open for the benefit of everyone, unfortunately including the spammers.

A new email system

Lots of ideas and tools have been suggested to combat spam, and one of the better suggestions is recreating email into an authenticated based system which would effectively prevent people from spamming and forging of headers. The one main drawback of this system is that it needs to be built from scratch, and because email already exists it would take too long for everyone to convert from one system to the new "spam-proof" one.

If the migration of email to a new "spam-proof" system could be speeded up, then that makes the authenticated based email system a better option. Now if spam continues at its current growth and it collapses within six months, wouldn't that be a better temptation to switch to a safer email system and switch off the spam-congested "old" email system?

Beating a dead-donkey

So in effect, if someone with the stature of Steve Linford believes the life-expectancy of email is six months, maybe now is a good time to start investing in a better email system. Of course, one alternative is finding a better way to combat spam - are we running short of ideas?

Who loses the most if email collapses? I believe it is the spammers - since their lifeblood is now cut off, they need to seek new streams of revenue. Usenet, instant messaging, online forums and .net enabled desktop spam are probably the next targets if email ceases.

Conceeding defeat to spammers

Of course, conceeding defeat to spammers isn't a victory of any sorts. It is a defeat of the worst kind - the victory of greed and selfishness over collaboration and trust. If we are fighting a losing battle, we should really weigh up which is the better and more cost-effective option: Keep losing ground to spammers and hope a new weapon is found, or find a new email infrastructure, one that spammers can't thrive.

Related news items
(specifically email meltdown estimates)

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