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Spam: The new network drain

In this column, site expert Carrie Higbie offers amusing alternatives for the word 'spam' and then offers up some serious advice for getting a handle on the real deal.

Spam – the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines spam as unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large...

number of addresses. But I'm offering up some additional suggestions: Serially Pesky Abnormal Mail -- causing more than just system overloads for many companies. The costs reported for Spurious Prominent Annoying Messages are received by a company, the Stop Providing Any Mail filters will block message delivery. OK, that is a bit extreme, but the hidden cost of mail filters is the millions of legitimate messages that get blocked. In recent weeks, I have heard dozens of horror stories concerning lost business, personnel actions and other problems when "real" e-mail is mistaken for junk.

Storage Paradise for Actual Mail would be a better name for some filters. I am reminded of when firewalls first came to market. Of course, businesses filtered on "non-business" words like sex. I got a call from the CEO once wanting to know why he could not get to Not happy with the answer given, he wanted to know if the filter could be taken off the network. For every radar gun, there is a new radar detector, right? Well, the same is true for firewalls and filters. We have reached an age where the unscrupulous few make it extremely difficult for those of us that are working to feed our families and earn a paycheck. I was told of a similar instance last week by a company that put in a bid for a project via e-mail. The bid never got there because the subject was "here is the information you requested."

The text in the subject line and file attachments in your message are just as important as the contents. Companies have had to remove PDF logo files and other attachments and have seen the cost savings originally realized by sending e-mail as opposed to faxes, overnight deliveries and regular old snail mail reversed as a backup hard copy is required for good old CYA. When I was a webmaster and this awful spam practice started, it took at least two hours per day to cipher through the e-mails that came to the webmaster address just to find the legitimate ones. Then you must train your filter. Probably the worst part of this is that if your e-mail is considered Stupid Propaganda Absent of Merit, and it is canned and you are not notified. There is not enough bandwidth to respond to all of the hoax addresses much less the legitimate ones.

I still get unsolicited e-mail from a variety of sources and have even gotten a few nasty grams from people upset about e-mail that I never sent. All filters are NOT created equal. If you are looking for a good filter, I suggest the following:

  • Find out how difficult it is to train the software
  • Find out if your end-users can train their own address books remotely
  • Find out what kind of reporting you will get for SPAM that is canned by the program
  • Find out what the software does with delivery receipts
  • Make sure the software does not send out fake "read" receipts if it read the e-mail
  • Test, test, test, test, and test again to find out what it really scraps
  • Find out how it picks what to scrap
  • Can it be enabled individually by workstation or is the server only version there
  • Is there a way to move the messages to individual folders that end-users can review?

It is a sticky problem to have one person responsible for deciding which e-mails are legitimate and which are Scrapable Phluff with Absolute Malice. This requires a significant level of trust in any one person, which also makes for an amount of exposure. There has to be a better option for handling e-mail. Maybe we should all take a class on what to put in our subjects and e-mail so they don't get deleted without our knowledge.

In any situation, good old snail mail or a delivery service may provide your best assurance that your business critical communications are not intercepted electronically and filed in the electronic file that is supposed to protect us from loss of productivity due to non-legitimate e-mail. I challenge anyone to come up with a figure for lost business due to this new challenge. How much business is really lost due to the perception that someone is not returning e-mails or not delivering quotes? Maybe it is time we start picking up the phone for personal communications and faxes. If we all quit using e-mail what would the Shifty People Advertising Manically Meaningless Easily Rejectable Slop do? Maybe they would get a job at the Post Office!

Carrie Higbie, Global Network Applications Market Manager, The Siemon Company
Carrie has been involved in the computing and networking industries for nearly 20 years. She has worked with manufacturing firms, medical institutions, casinos, healthcare providers, cable and wireless providers and a wide variety of other industries in both networking design/implementation, project management and software development for privately held consulting firms and most recently Network and Software Solutions.

Carrie currently works with The Siemon Company where her responsibilities include providing liaison services to electronic manufacturers to assure that there is harmony between the active electronics and existing and future cabling infrastructures. She participates with the IEEE, TIA and various consortiums for standards acceptance and works to further educate the end user community on the importance of a quality infrastructure. Carrie currently holds an RCDD/LAN Specialist from BICSI, MCNE from Novell and several other certifications.

This was last published in February 2005

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