Consumers More Aware of Anti-Spam Tools

Symantec says there is a growing awareness among users of the issues surrounding spam, or unsolicited commercial email and according to an April 2003 survey of 1,000 users conducted for Symantec by InsightExpress, users today are more cognizant of spam-fighting technologies than they were last fall. However, the survey also indicates that more education is needed in order to help minimize users' risk of receiving spam at home and at work.

"Spam is flooding the Internet, threatening not only the productivity but also the privacy of users as they are forced to deal with countless unsolicited and often deceptive email messages," said Steve Cullen, senior vice president, Consumer and Client Product Delivery at Symantec. "However, by educating themselves on the dangers of spam and by employing anti-spam technologies, users can reduce their susceptibility to this growing threat."

To gauge users' ongoing understanding of and experience with spam, Symantec compared the results of the April 2003 survey with findings from an identical survey conducted in September 2002. The comparison revealed that while the amount of spam received by users has not changed, computer users have become more educated about anti-spam tools. For example, in September 2002, 42% of respondents reported that they did not have a spam filter. By April 2003, the number of respondents without a spam filter had dropped to 31%.

However, the survey results also underscored the need for additional user education by showing that users often unknowingly respond inappropriately to spam, thereby increasing rather than decreasing their risk. For example, nearly 30% of respondents said they typically deal with spam by asking to be removed from the spammer's list. Yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Internet security experts including Symantec, responding to spam may actually result in even more unsolicited email as these responses confirm to spammers the accuracy of the targeted email address. In fact, the FTC recently conducted a study wherein the Commission and law enforcement partners tested whether "remove me" or "unsubscribe" options in spam were being honored. Their findings showed that 63% of the removal requests were not honored.

The survey also revealed that users' top concerns and complaints about receiving unsolicited email are changing as the spam threat evolves. For example, the top complaint about spam today is that "it takes too much time to delete or get unsubscribed," according to 39% of respondents to the April 2003 survey.

Thirty percent of respondents to the current study said that their most pressing complaint about spam was its offensive content. A recent FTC investigation, available at, concluded, "Consumers who use email are exposed to a variety of spam -- including objectionable messages -- no matter the source of the address. Some email addresses (in the study) posted to children's newsgroups received a large amount of spam promoting adult Web sites, pitching work-at-home schemes, and even advertising hallucinogenic drugs."

Tying as the third most pressing concern of today's users, with 19% of respondents each, was the complaint that spam is unsolicited or deceptive and that it raises concerns about privacy and sharing of personal information. The unsolicited and deceptive nature of spam was underscored in the FTC study which revealed that 100% of the email addresses the Commission posted in chat rooms received spam, the content of which was not related to the sites were the email addresses were posted; the first received spam only eight minutes after the address was posted. Eighty-six percent of the email addresses posted at newsgroups and Web pages received spam, as did 50% of addresses at free personal Web page services and 27% from message board postings.

Privacy is also a growing concern as spam proliferates. According to the FTC, a recent study by the Radicati Group, a market research group, estimated that 32% of the 7.3 billion email messages sent are spam and that the figure is likely to increase substantially in the future. "The increased volume of spam has increased the potential for fraud on the Internet," the FTC stated in its notice announcing an upcoming public forum on spam email. "Although not all spam is fraudulent, fraud operators have seized on the Internet's capacity to reach literally millions of consumers quickly and at a low cost through spam." Buying products offered through spammed email, for example, carries with it several risks, including defective or counterfeit product, the exposure and sharing of sensitive personal data over the Internet, and credit card theft.

In addition, spam emails have been used to lure unwary users to Web sites that contain viruses, spyware or other malicious code. Late last year, for example, an Internet adult entertainment company created a Trojan horse program that routed unsuspecting users to the company's pornography sites. Users were tricked into accepting the program through a spam email message that promised to deliver an electronic greeting card.

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