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Anti-spam group surveys consumer e-mail behavior, security savvy

Posted: July 15, 2009 1:52 p.m.
Updated: July 15, 2009 4:45 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Everyone asks, "who would be so reckless as to click on this junk?" Yet almost a third of consumers admitted to responding to an email message they suspected might be spam, according to a survey released today by the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG).

Also alarming, about 80 percent of users doubted their computers were at risk of ever being infected with a "bot," which is a covertly planted virus capable of sending spam or causing other damage without the owner's knowledge.

The results indicate a lack of awareness among consumers since industry reports indicate bots are responsible for generating much of today's illegitimate email.

MAAWG commissioned the study, "A Look at Consumers' Awareness of Email Security and Practices," to gauge users' understanding of messaging threats and to identify how best to work with users in removing bots and viruses from infected systems.

The report is based on 800 interviews with computer users in the United States and Canada who said they were not "security experts" and who used email addresses that were not managed by a professional IT department.

The survey data creates a picture of users familiar with general email-based threats but not necessarily as alert or cautious as they should be to proactively protect themselves against spam, online fraud and other email-related hazards.

There also is no general consensus among consumers as to how network operators and industry vendors should interact with customers when addressing these issues.

"Spamming has morphed from an isolated hacker playing with some code into a well-developed underground economy that feeds off reputable users' machines to avoid detection. Consumers shouldn't be afraid to use email, but they need to be computer smart and learn how to avoid these problems," said MAAWG Chair Michael O'Reirdan.

About two-thirds of the consumers surveyed considered themselves "very" or "somewhat" knowledgeable in Internet security. While most consumers use anti-virus software and over half said they never click on suspected spam, the survey also found that 21 percent take no action to prevent abusive messages from entering their inbox. A majority of consumers, 63 percent, would allow their network operator or anti-virus vendor to remotely access their computer to remove detected bots.

Offers a Framework for Working with Subscribers
Ferris Research, Inc., an industry analysis firm that tracks messaging issues, provided additional recommendations in the report for service providers and vendors based on the survey findings.

Among their suggestions is that network operators and vendors consider offering remote bot mitigation capabilities to differentiate their services from competitors.

Vendors also might consider refining spam filters based on the specific patterns defined in the study.

For example, the MAAWG survey found that users between the ages of 24 and 44 are more likely to use email for banking and bill statements, so industry vendors might focus on preventing phishing spam for these consumers.

Ferris Research Principal David Ferris said, "According to the MAAWG findings, about one in six people are prepared to make an effort to report spam and the industry should find more ways to tap into this potential. Conversely, the volume of people who still respond to spam is regrettable because it's an economic incentive to spammers," he said.

This is the first consumer survey commissioned by MAAWG, which is the largest global trade association tackling messaging abuse. Bots are one of the fastest growing email security issues.

The complete 60-page survey report, "A Look at Consumers' Awareness of Email Security and Practices or 'Of Course I Never Reply to Spam, Except Sometimes'" includes graphs, detailed findings and analysis. It is available today at no cost on the MAAWG Web site,

About the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG)
The Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) is where the messaging industry comes together to work against spam, viruses, denial-of-service attacks and other online exploitation. MAAWG ( represents almost one billion mailboxes from some of the largest network operators worldwide.

It is the only organization addressing messaging abuse holistically by systematically engaging all aspects of the problem, including technology, industry collaboration and public policy.

MAAWG leverages the depth and experience of its global membership to tackle abuse on existing networks and new emerging services.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., MAAWG is an open forum driven by market needs and supported by major network operators and messaging providers.


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