Jenny Craig Goes on a No-Spam Diet

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While millions of Jenny Craig, Inc. subscribers have tried to ridthemselves of unwanted pounds in recent years, members of thecorporation's IT staff were trying to get rid of unwanted spam in theirinternal e-mail accounts.

Although the weight-loss management company had problems with spam foryears, Jeff Nelson, Jenny Craig's director of technology, says theproblem became worse for the company's 3,000 employees in the last year. At the height of the dilemma, almost half of incoming e-mail (includingthose to Nelson's own e-mail account) was unwanted spam, despite thefact that two IT employees worked full-time to administer in-house spamfilters.

Finally this past February, Jenny Craig took a path that many othercompanies have started to take -- company executives looked for helpfoiling spammers outside their own IT department. IT heads there hiredPostini, a Redwood City, Calif.-based company that offers email securityservices and virus protection.

According to a recent study by the Framingham, Mass.-based marketresearch firm International Data Corporation (IDC), spam infiltrationhas dramatically increased in the last few years, reducing theusefulness of e-mail, which has largely become a spam carrier as much asan information carrier.

In 2002, 7.5 billion spams were mailed worldwide each day, according toRobert Mahowald, a research manager for IDC. And in 2004, that numberrose to 23.5 billion.

''It is definite that spammers are getting smarter,'' Mahowaldmaintains.

And it seems there are a few spam giants who are causing most of theproblems.

Mahowald contends that there are about 25 to 30 spam sources thatare accountable for 95 percent of the total number of spams each year. Most of these, he says, are involved in illegal businesses.

IDC notes that in a recent survey of 500 businesses, 69 percentreport spending part of their budget on anti-spam services or software,and 24 percent planned to install filters within six months. Only theremaining 7 percent had no plans to combat spam.

''Companies are getting smarter because they have to,'' says Mahowald.

The increased demand for e-mail security by companies like JennyCraig has meant more business for Postini. Postini's bookings andrevenues have grown 30 percent per quarter for the last 14 quarters,which translates to 185 percent growth each year, according to Andrew Lochart, Postini's director of product marketing.

Some of the company's 3,700 clients include Merrill Lynch, Ray-o-vac,and maybe a little ironically, the Hormel Food Corp., manufacturer of the food product Spam.

Before hiring Postini, Jenny Craig's Nelson says it took two ITemployees working full time to administer the in-housespam filters. Now it is ''light work'' for one IT employee to maintainPostini every day, he adds.

In addition to allowing in too much spam, Jenny Craig's previous in-house filter methods would sometimes erroneously delete important e-mail messages. That means critical emails, possibly regarding financing, customer needs or marketing plans, would be lost. It also means that customers or business partners might be left wondering why they received no response from the company.

''Some people, on occasion, would say, 'Hey, is something wrongwith the e-mail' I didnt get something I was supposed to.' And sureenough, we would check and something would be caught [in the filter],''Nelson says.

Now with Postini's solution in place, questionable e-mail is sent to the IT department, where it's sifted through and some is sent on to the employees. This also has cut down on employees using their e-mail for extraneous personal use.

Lochart says in addition to spam attacks, companies also are battlingan increase in direct harvest attacks and 'silent killers', in which a spammer may send a company's server thousands of empty e-mail requests, trying to find an accurate address. This puts an enormous burden on the server because it attempts to create thousands of 'bounce messages' back to the sender, slowing email delivery.

''Spammers are constantly reviving their technique,'' Lochart says. ''It's a cat-and-mouse game.''

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