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Wireless Spam: Preparing for the Coming Blizzard

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Wireless spam? It might not be a problem for you yet, but within a year or two, it will be! Anne Zieger has some tips on how to meet this threat head-on before it causes big hassles for your users.
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Wireless spam may not be a problem for U.S. cell phone users right now, but over the next year or two, the grace period is likely to come to an end.

Although users of mobile devices in the U.S. might read a few spam messages that slip past spam filters, they're far luckier than users in the Pacific Rim and parts of Europe. In Korea, for example, typical users get an average of 20 SMS spam messages per day. Many customers of Japanese mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo get as many as 30 messages per day, despite aggressive filtering and tough anti-spam laws.

U.S. mobile users are likely to face a similar influx soon, probably within the next year or two. So if you're an IT administrator who doesn't fancy the idea of users struggling with yet another spam blizzard (or coming to you to complain), it's time to get prepared. Although the problem isn't entirely in your hands—the wireless carriers have a critical role to play—there are steps you can take to protect your enterprise users from the coming barrage. This article details these steps for you.

Step #1: Investigate Whitelist and Blacklist Software for Both SMS and E-Mail Messages for Your Mobile Users (or Develop Your Own)

If you're not sure where to start, look at newer Handango.com software offerings as a model. Increasingly, smaller, more agile mobile software firms are providing anti-spam options as part of basic message-management packages.

Typically, these packages offer both SMS filtering (in some cases, stopping messages from displaying if they're not on a user's whitelist) and spam-filtering options for traditional e-mail messages.

How about if you decide to develop your own mobile device-filtering options? Should you offer your users a whitelist or blacklist options? That's a widely debated topic in the spam-fighting community, and there's no good answer.

Whitelisting, which admits mobile mail only from known sources, has some serious limitations, notes Roger Matus, chief executive of the Boxborough, MA language software firm Audiotrieve.

  • "Depending on who you are, the cost of blocking a message incorrectly can be very high," Matus says. "One of our casino customer estimates that a single blocked message from a VIP customer could cost them over $100,000."

A blacklist, at least, won't screen out messages from critical enterprise partners, colleagues, or customers simply because they're not using a different e-mail identity or cell phone than they use ordinarily, Matus says. But as with desktop mail filtering, a blacklist can, of course, screen out legitimate mailers.

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