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Outsmarting Spam

Junk E-mail is a frustrating fact of life. For business-technology execs, fighting it is, too

The fight against spam doesn't promise to ring up more revenue or slash the costs of doing business. But make no mistake: Fighting spam has become a priority for most businesses, and the backlash is leaving business-technology execs with no choice. They must fight the battle or suffer the consequences--maybe both.

The results of a new InformationWeek Research survey make it clear that not everyone is gearing up for all-out war. Just over a third of 550 business-technology executives say eliminating spam is a high priority in their companies. The majority say it's a moderate priority, but maybe that's because they're so busy with more mission-critical IT projects. Or maybe they haven't yet heard from senior executives demanding that spam be kept out of their in-boxes. "If you don't get it under control, it's a very visible problem," says Lowell Mattox, VP of internal technology at MasterCard International. "You can get black eyes on this in a hurry."

Lowell Mattox -- Photo by Bobb Stefko

"You can get black eyes on this in a hurry," says MasterCard VP Mattox of spam.

Photo of Lowell Mattox by Bobb Stefko
Get out the ice packs and raw steak. Only about 25% of respondents say their companies have extremely effective spam-filtering controls. More than half don't even track how much spam comes in the door, but 86% of respondents who do track it say the situation is getting worse every month. For example, in July, half of MasterCard's 800,000 inbound messages were tagged as spam, compared with one-quarter of 400,000 messages in February, Mattox says. That's a fourfold increase in spam volume.

The rise in unsolicited, unwanted E-mail will only increase the burden on E-mail servers--and drive up operational costs. On average, survey respondents from large companies say that almost 30% of their server resources are devoted to processing spam. The Radicati Group, in a just-released report, estimates a company with 10,000 employees that lacks spam-fighting tools will spend $49 per user this year on server resources to handle spam, compared with an average of about $25 per user for those with spam-filtering software. Server costs will rise to $257 per user by 2007, Radicati predicts. "It's a very hidden cost at this point," says senior analyst Masha Khmartseva. "It's going to be more important for IT execs to deal with this problem."

chartOrganizations will have to add more servers as the volume of E-mail grows over the next four years, the Radicati report says, and as many as half of new E-mail servers added in large companies could wind up solely as "spam servers."

Smaller companies aren't immune to the problem: The growth of junk E-mail recently forced Berlin Packaging, a $200-million-a-year maker of bottles, jars, and other packaging, to upgrade its Microsoft Exchange 2000 E-mail server to a more powerful configuration. The company, spurred by increasingly urgent requests from senior execs, deployed a Symantec Corp. SMTP gateway last month to help get a handle on unwanted E-mail. Spam is tagged when it's delivered to employee in-boxes--CIO Steven Canter has even configured his PC to yell "I hate spam!" whenever one of the dreaded missives arrives. The unwanted messages will soon be routed to a quarantined location on the network.

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