They're popping up in your inbox more and more every day -- those
annoying ads that clog e-mail systems, annoy Internet users and offend many.
But can spam -- and the fight against it -- also create jobs?
Spam is a huge issue for computer users worldwide. Also known as "junk
e-mail," it casts a dark cloud over the Internet. But there is a silver lining
-- the fight against spam is creating exciting new jobs.
Two of the key players in the fight against spam are computer security
experts and makers of anti-spam software. Computer security experts can be
employees of companies, or may work as independent consultants.
"Has it created jobs? Yes," says Gregory Evans. He's a computer security
consultant. "Will it create more jobs? Yes. Why? Because spam is never going
Not only is spam never going away, it has also become part of a much bigger
issue. Spam increasingly involves a wide range of cyber threats such as spyware,
viruses and identity theft scams.
"Spam is just a euphemism for a much bigger problem," says Neil Schwartzman.
He's executive director of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email
"Clearly it isn't getting under control," says Schwartzman. "Spam is an
Schwartzman says that between 80 and 97 percent of all e-mail is spam.
You never see most of it because ISPs (Internet Service Providers) filter
billions of spam messages every day.
"For every spam message that you see, there are 10 that you don't," says
Schwartzman. "It's beyond a problem or annoyance. It's something that threatens
not only the e-mail infrastructure -- you can actually take entire countries
offline. So what we're talking about when we say 'spam' is a threat to the
very fundaments of the Internet."
Spammers are not only increasing in number, they're becoming more sophisticated.
"They are as professional as any software company can be," says Schwartzman.
"Don't think for a moment that this is two kids in their parents' basement.
This is real big business. Spammers make a lot of money."
Evans agrees. "Cyber crime generates more revenue than all drug trafficking,"
he says. "But we don't hear about it because there are not enough people out
there to investigate these cyber crimes."
There's so much money to be made that organized crime is heavily involved
in spam, says Schwartzman. The criminal organizations are mostly located in
overseas countries that do little to oversee the Internet.
"The nature of spam changed several years ago... when grassroots spammers
became affiliated with organized crime and took it up a notch," says Schwartzman.
"Now they're very, very professional spammers."
One way that spammers get e-mail addresses is by using web crawlers. These
are software programs that can be used to scour the Internet, sucking up any
e-mail addresses they find on websites.
Cyber criminals are endlessly inventive, always coming up with new ways
to separate people from their money and/or personal information.
Here's an example offered by Evans. A spammer creates a funny message that
you're encouraged to send to all of your friends. If any of those friends
hit "reply all," then the spammer's e-mail address will be within that list
of recipients. Now the spammer has all of your friends' e-mail addresses.
Here's the scary part. The cyber criminal can now send a message to all
of your friends and make it look like it's really coming from you. The message
might say, "You'll never believe it, but I got married, and here's a picture!"
"When they click that link, they now have spyware on their machines and
they don't even know it's on their machines," says Evans.
Once the spyware is on your computer, none of your information is safe.
Your entire identity can be stolen, and your bank accounts can be emptied.
Criminals can use spam to install spyware that will read your computer files
and track your keystrokes. Or they can fool you into giving them your banking
"Rather than selling you placebo pills, they go into your bank account
and take everything," says Schwartzman. "Why take $40 when you can take $400
Spammers will try anything to separate you from your money or private information.
They will even exploit tragedies.
"The earthquake in Haiti drove up the volume of scam and phishing messages
in January 2010 as spammers used the tragic event for their benefit," notes
a February 2010 report by anti-spam software maker Symantec (phishing involves
tricking people into giving their personal information).
Following a tragedy such as the one in Haiti, seemingly genuine requests
for donations from legitimate charities arrive in e-mail inboxes. But guess
what happens? "When users send their donation, the money disappears into an
offshore bank account," the report says.
Fighting spam and related threats is a growing industry. The best training
to become a computer security consultant is a certificate course in information
technology (IT) that gives you hands on, up-to-the-minute training. Today,
most post-secondary schools offer intensive IT courses, and some specialize
in computer and network security. It's even possible to attain a PhD in computer
"When a person graduates from college... they're not going to apply to
be an e-mail spam fighter, but a cyber-crime fighter or computer security
expert, which does a little of everything," says Evans.
Anti-spam software companies employ programmers to write software code.
They usually have a degree in computer programming. Similarly, information
security specialists ensure that software code for networks and websites are
It's a big challenge to filter spam. That's why there's always some slipping
through, no matter what anti-spam software someone uses. "The spam filters
sometimes can't distinguish between what's spam and what's real," explains
"What it's really going to take is not just spam filters, it's going to
take international law enforcement," says Schwartzman. "The Net is such a
wonderful, cool place, but it really is infested with criminals."
Sondra Schneider is seeing a growing number of information security specialists
becoming employed by companies. She trains network and security professionals.
"I think there's a big demand for risk professionals [and] security professionals,"
says Schneider. "For every thousand people [employed by a company], there
was one security person, and now we're seeing two or two-and-a-half security
people for every 1,000 people in an enterprise."
Schneider recommends that aspiring information security professionals earn
a certificate from a college or IT school.
"A certificate will take you as far as you need to go," says Schneider.
"Having a degree is good but it won't teach you what you need to do. Even
if they had a computer science background they would need a certificate regardless."
Those on the frontlines of this anti-spam battle can rest assured that
their services will be in demand for a long time to come.
"It's always going to get worse," says Evans. "The reason why is, by the
time someone comes out with some software or new technology to stop spam,
the bad guys who are doing it are already a step ahead."
Spam Filter Review
A collection of statistics about spam
The Anti-Spam Home Page
Includes a list of do's and don'ts
Definitions and explanations