Research firm IDC has released a new study claiming that 2007 will be the first year the volume of spam email on the Internet exceeds legitimate person-to-person email messages. In “Worldwide Email Usage 2007–2011,” the company forecasts that email volume in 2007 will amount to nearly 97 billion messages, and that more than 40 billion of those will be spam. That number is expected to exceed the total human-to-human messages produced during the year; the remainder of the year’s email traffic will be legitimate but automated communications, such as receipts, confirmations, and other legitimate machine-generated communications.
“Spam volumes are growing faster than expected due to the success of image-based spam in bypassing antispam filters and of email sender identity spoofing in getting higher response rates,” said Mark Levitt, program VP for IDC’s Collaborative Computing and Enterprise Workplace research, in a statement. “Instant messaging, joined by free and low-cost VoIP calling, will result in slower email growth, especially among teens and young adults.”
IDC’s predictions might seem a little old fashioned: after all, email monitoring and security firms like Postini have long claimed that the majority of email they monitor is spam—Postini recently declared spam accounted for 80 percent of the email it monitored. Although neither email security firms nor IDC disclose very much of their methodology, it should be noted that firms like Postini can be thought of as spam magnets: by offering to filter clients’ email for spam, worms, and viruses, the message traffic these companies monitor is likely to be disproportionately spam heavy. That said, claims that 80 percent of all email is spam seem to surprise no one who operates an email server or deals with anti-spam technology, whereas a claim that the level of spam is only now exceeding human-generated email messages is raising some eyebrows.
IDC emphasizes that as email becomes more spam-laden and unreliable, email providers and companies need to consider email as only one of many communications channels with their employees and customers. IDC recommends companies utilize multiple layers of spam protection (including desktop software, network appliances, and external services), provide email access from both the desktop and wireless devices, and work on developing alternative electronic communications channels like instant messaging and VoIP calling.