There's good news and bad news in July 2003's monthly spam figures: the good news is the spam volume only rose 1 percentage point over the previous month; the bad news is that the tipping point has been reached, as Brightmail's Probe Network classified 50 percent of all measured e-mail as unwanted messages.

It gets worse: July 2003's 50 percent figure represents a substantial increase since July 2002 when the spam volume was only 37 percent. Spam has increased steadily since the first half of 2002, with the largest gain measured in June when the volume swelled to 34 percent over May's 22 percent.

Jupiter Research (a unit of this site's corporate parent) did a comparative analysis of e-mail sources from 2002 and 2003, indicating the upward trend in spam and the decrease among other sources to primary personal e-mail accounts.

Sources of Consumer E-mail
Type 2002 2003 Change
Spam 35% 44% +9%
Friends & family 34% 31% -3%
Opt-in 17% 16% -1%
Work or school 8% 5% -3%
Other 6% 4% -2%
Source: Jupiter Research/Ipsos-Insight Individual, June 2003, 4,046 U.S.
adults Jupiter Research/ The NPD Group, Inc., May 2002, 4,295 U.S. adults

Brightmail noticed that the largest spam increase during July 2003 was in the "health" category — gaining 9 percent over the previous month — while unwanted messages for "products" dropped 17 percent.

July 2003 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam June July Change
Health 3% 12% +9%
Internet 2% 7% +5%
Scams 4% 9% +5%
Leisure 5% 8% +3%
Adult 12% 14% +2%
Other 13% 14% +1%
Spiritual 2% 1% -1%
Financial 22% 15% -7%
Products 37% 20% -17%
Source: Brightmail's Probe Network

Internet users have reached spam saturation and are overwhelmingly in favor of legal measures, according to a July 2003 collaborative survey from ePrivacy Group and Ponemon Institute of nearly 1,100 U.S. adults.

The study found that 79 percent of respondents think unwanted e-mail should be legally banned or limited by the law, and 74 percent believe there should be a federal "do not e-mail" list. More than half (59 percent) would like to see spammers punished, with 80 percent of that group indicating that consumer lawsuits would be an adequate punishment, followed by federal authority (70 percent), and law enforcement (61 percent).

"In general our study suggests that consumers want government to provide greater protection against spammers," commented Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of Ponemon Institute.

Respondents rated unwanted e-mail on par with telemarketing as the marketing practice that is most annoying to them, while more than two-thirds found unwanted postal mail as the least annoying.

Nearly half of the respondents (47 percent) found that e-mail comprised 25 percent to 50 percent of their normal volume, and most (36 percent) spent between 10 and 30 minutes dealing with unwanted e-mail, with another 32 percent devoting between 30 and 60 minutes.

In addition to the wasted time, Internet users are losing trust in the communication tool. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) claimed to have received an e-mail from a legitimate, well-known company only to discover it to be a forgery, and 46 percent opened what they thought to be a legitimate e-mail and got pornography or a virus instead.

Continuing the good news/bad news trend is the July 2003 computer virus data from Central Command, Inc. Steven Sundermeier, product manager of the anti-virus company, reported that there were no new significant virus outbreaks during the month, but one of the more damaging worms has become the most prevalent again.

"After relinquishing the top spot over the past couple months, Worm/Klez.E once again regains the peak position," commented Sundermeier. "What we have seen with Worm/Klez.E is unparalleled to any past Internet worm, as it continues to show extraordinary staying power."

Worm/Klez.E has been the most prevalent virus according to Central Command's tracking for twelve of the previous fifteen monthly Dirty Dozen reports.

July 2003 Dirty Dozen
Rank Virus Percentage
1. Worm/Klez.E 19.2%
2. Worm/Sobig.E 17.9%
3. Worm/BugBear.B 17.6.7%
4. Worm/Sobig.A 6.6%
5. Worm/Sobig.C 4.2%
6. W32/Sircam.A 2.9%
7. Worm/Ganda 1.8%
8. Worm/Hawawi.E 1.6%
9. W32/Funlove.4099 1.5%
10. Worm/Avril.A 1.2%
11. W32/Yaha.E 1.2%
12. W32/Nimda 1.0%
  Others 23.3%
Note: The table above represents the most prevalent
viruses for July 2003, number one being the most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • The health category offers health-related products or services, such as herbal remedies or medical treatments.
  • Internet- or computer-oriented e-mails are those that advertise related products or services, such as Web hosting, or design.
  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • Leisure-related messages are those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • "Other" encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.
  • Spiritually oriented messages include offerings for psychics, organized religion, and astrology.
  • Financial marketing messages are those that make reference to money, the stock market, credit reports, loans, and investments.
  • Product-oriented messages advertise general goods or services.