Spam Rate Holds Steady, Filter Companies Say

The rate of unsolicited commercial e-mail held steady in May, according to leading spam-filtering companies.

Postini said spam accounted for 78 percent of the 5.7 billion e-mail messages it processed in the month, the same percentage as a month earlier. Compared with the start of the year, Postini reported spam's share of e-mail has decreased slightly from 79 percent. Since Postini processed 1.5 billion more messages in May than January, the total number of spam messages it blocked increased.

“When you get to this level, it's hard to make a big jump,” said Chris Smith, senior director of product marketing at Postini. “They're sending more and more spam, but overall it's making less and less of a dent.”

Brightmail, another spam-filtering company, also said the rate of spam has stayed constant. Its Probe Network found 64 percent of the 100 billion e-mail messages it filtered was spam, the same level as in April. This was up from the 58 percent Brightmail tracked in January.

Smith said the effect of the CAN-SPAM Act, five months after it came into force, is difficult to assess.

“It may very well have slowed things down a bit,” he said. “What we're happy about is it created an environment where the U.S. government is sending a clear message to spammers that this is unacceptable behavior.”

Spam's growth has been a boon to filtering companies like Brightmail and Postini. According to a survey by Nucleus Research, spam would cost Fortune 500 businesses nearly $2,000 in lost productivity per employee this year, more than double a year earlier.

Large corporations will spend 50 percent more on spam-filtering technology this year, making it a billion-dollar industry, according to consultancy Radicati. By 2008, the researcher forecasts, it will surpass $1.7 billion. That bullish market outlook led tech security firm Symantec to buy Brightmail for $370 million last month.

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