Stat of the month: Inbox intruders - 96% - The proportion of e-mail traffic made up of spam

'What have you got?' asks a customer in the Monty Python cafe sketch. 'Well, there's egg, bacon and spam; egg, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam; and spam, sausage, spam, spam, bacon, spam, tomato and spam.'

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Spam, it seems, is the perfect label for the unsolicited e-mails crowding our inboxes. It amounts to an incredible 90 billion messages a day, from offers to enlarge one's manhood to unmissable Ivory Coast investment opportunities. In Q4 of 2007, 70% of all e-mails offered sexual enhancers, 5% made financial offers, and 10% peddled counterfeit goods. The strangest thing, however, is that they work. If enough recipients didn't respond, the scams would cease. About 80% of traffic originates from fewer than 200 spammers, often via hijacked 'slave' computers. Techniques include phishing, where e-mails resemble a message from a reputable site, and worms, which can self-replicate across networks and damage files (last year, the Storm worm infected 10 million PCs). Security filters seem no match. Which is not surprising - one website calculates that, by including symbols, there are a sextillion ways to spell Viagra.

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