Canning the spammers: The problem is not improving

On Nov. 23, 2009, Alan Ralsky, notorious international spammer and his son-in-law Scott Bradley were convicted of mail fraud, wire fraud and breaking the CAN-SPAM Act and were severely sentenced: 51 months in federal prison for Ralsky followed by five years of supervised release, 40 months in prison (plus five years supervised release) for Bradley, and fines of up to $250,000; several of their co-conspirators also pled guilty and were sentenced to similar or lower penalties. These criminals ran a world-wide spam operation using a wide range of techniques including criminal subversion of hundreds of thousands of victims' computers to send out billions of unsolicited commercial e-mails advertising fraudulent products through botnets. The FTC received over 3 million complaints about the false advertising distributed by these criminals.

To the degree that the CAN-SPAM Act is being used to prosecute, convict, and punish spammers, it is having a beneficial effect despite the skepticism of pessimists such as myself.

Despite these isolated successes, however, all available evidence indicates that spam is a continuing and growing problem for the global e-mail users. Statistics from a wide range of sources suggest that spam may constitute anywhere from 85% to 95% of the total bandwidth utilization of global e-mail traffic (itself around 1% to 1.5% of total Internet bandwidth utilization, according to Arbor Networks research; for example, the October "State of Spam" report from Symantec estimated 87% of e-mail to be spam and a report from Microsoft covering the first half of 2009 put the proportion at 98%. The cost of spam simply in resource utilization alone – excluding the costs of wasted time and of antispam technology – is thus a major portion of the global capital investment and incremental costs of running Internet e-mail.

Given the seriousness of this problem, we must pay attention to the underlying causes of this electronic abuse. Without due consideration of cause, we risk applying temporary bandages to the consequences but never dealing with the source of the wounds.

In the next part of this three-part series, I'll look at fundamental causes of the spam problem.

Learn more about this topic

Spammers in the slammer

CAN-SPAM: What went wrong?

Famous last words about spam

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