Local News

Unwanted E-mail Can Be Bad News for Computer Users, ISPs

Posted November 17, 1999

— E-mail is fast becoming the way we do business and communicate with friends. However, the technology that makes e-mail so valuable also allows unscrupulous marketers and hucksters to bombard you with unwanted messages. "You've got mail" is not always good news.

Unsolicited e-mail, called "spam" in the Internet community, jams computers at Internet service providers around the world.

Interpath's Andrew Penchuk explains why. "It takes a lot of money to send out direct mail, snail mail," he says. "But using spam, it costs nothing to the sender, and they can send out, with one click, send out to millions and millions of people."

Raleigh engineer Larry Tice uses e-mail at work and sometimes checks his private e-mail account, but he gets rid of spam quickly.

"I might open one up every three or four months maybe, but most of the time I just see what they are and just delete them," Tice says.

Many of us do, but the the messages keep on coming.

Americans send three billion e-mail messages a day. By 2002, that number is expected to grow to eight billion a day. These message are not free, either to the consumer or the Internet service providers.

"The recipient [loses] in time that they are having to wade through all this unwanted mail," Penchuk says.

"To the ISP, they can take down service," he says. "Spammers can take down service by sending out these bulk e-mails which basically floods the server and they can't, the servers can't hold up under the traffic."

Camille Klein is a power user on the Net and fights against spammers and unsolicited commercial e-mail.

"I should have the option to sign up for a mailing list," she says. "I should be able to have a say in the matter."

You cannot protect yourself entirely from spam, but there are a few things you can do.

"If you go into a chat room with your name, your screen name, and it's also your e-mail address, a spammer can sit in a chat room, go to different chat rooms, and write down all the names or copy all the names down and then create a list," Penchuk says.

"When you post to a newsgroup, you post your e-mail address, and once you've posted there, it's there forever."

A method called "spoofing" might help. You add words to your e-mail address which cannot be read by software programs that search for e-mail addresses.

And you can configure filters in your e-mail program.

Also, never respond to junk mail, even to have your address removed. Replying just verifies your address for the spammer.

Federal and state governments are attempting to halt the flood of unwanted e-mail, but spammers are smart.

"They will be able to get around it. They'll find a way to do it," Penchuk says.

So for now, the best advice is just to hit the delete button.


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