Many states and even foreign governments are passing antispam laws. Virginia went so far as to make sending unsolicited e-mail a felony for egregious offenses. A conviction can lead to a prison term of one to five years, a hefty fine, and a seizure of profits and income from the sale of spam advertising.
Companies have also successfully used legal action to extract damages from spammers. EarthLink was awarded $16.4 million from Howard Carmack for using EarthLink services to send 825 million pieces of spam. EarthLink was also awarded $25 million in damages in a suit against Kahn C. Smith. Both individuals have been banned from sending future spam." America Online has won 25 spam-related lawsuits against more than 100 companies and individuals, including one resulting in an award of $6.9 million from a Virginia-based spammer.
Not only does processing spam negatively affect productivity and increase IT costs, it often contains obscene images, financial scams, and malicious software that can damage a user's computer or an enterprise's network. A practice known as phishing is used by criminals to fake solicitations from online companies such as eBay and Citibank. These solicitations are sent as e-mails that are dressed up with logos and other formatting to look like an e-mail that could have been sent by the company that they are attempting to impersonate. The e-mails request personal information such as a credit card number or social security number. Brightmail, an e-mail protection vendor, indicated that 27 percent of the e-mails that they filtered in October 2003 were phishing e-mails.12
Malicious e-mails cause consumers to lose confidence in doing business online, which can affect every company with an online presence. It behooves all of us to support the antispam movement. Developers and researchers are working on solutions to the spam problem. As the perpetrators of spam become cleverer in their techniques for circumventing standard antispam solutions, software developers have become cleverer in their approach to antispam solutions. Several of these antispam solutions are discussed later in this chapter.