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World without spam filters

I tried shutting down our own internal spam filters...chaos ensued

09/09/2021

After looking at our spam blocking statistics for yesterday (we blocked 279,706 messages on our 2 Domino SMTP gateways), I wondered what the world would be like if we had no spam filters? After I pondered this question for some time, I finally decided that the only way to really know the answer is to stop the automated blocking and just see what happens. After all, SpamSentinel has been working so well for so long that I've forgotten what it is like to live without a Spam filter. So I have decided to do a one hour test, bypassing the filter on our main SMTP gateway, from 11 AM to 12 noon today.

10:55 AM
I am writing this part of the blog before the test, not knowing if a small mutiny will ensue, or not. All is calm now, at 10:55 AM. The test begins in five minutes, at 11 AM, and runs for one hour. I am afraid to run it for more time than that, as this is our live email and people have work to do.

10:59 AM
So, it is 10:59 now, and I have just sent one last warning email about the test to everyone ....
"At 11 AM EST today, we are running a test of a World Without Spam Filters. All automated Spam blocking will be turned off for sixty minutes. We expect all users to block their own spam manually"


11:00 AM and we're off...the "World Without Spam Filters" test begins

11:21 AM
So, 21 minutes into the test, my Notes Inbox is being flooded. Here is a snapshot:


11:38 AM
Phone users are complaining about the spam. Allison Cote wants to know what is happening. She had to leave her phone and delete a bunch of messages from her Inbox. My test is distracting her, and others, from their work.

11:42 AM
I am checking mail1.box and mail2.box. There are 3,341 messages in one, and about the same number in the other. The router is going crazy trying to send some of these back to the senders as delivery failure reports. Aaaargh... this is worse than I thought.

11:46 AM I have to stop this test early. The amount of pain everywhere is too much. I am turning on the SMTP mail filter now as the only prudent course of action.

iPhone users are still complaining.

Good mail is buried in the spam.

The router task on the server is working way too hard, trying to deliver these spam messages or delivery failure reports. Some messages are being sent back out as Backscatter.

I have stopped the router task while I delete the contents of mail1.box and mail2.box.

Good messages that were in mail1.box or mail2.box may have been lost when I deleted all the pending messages to clear out the spam

I just restarted the router. It is quiet now. I will have all users resend all messages between sent between 11:30 and 11:45, as they were most likely deleted by me.


11:58 AM Looking around at other mail boxes to see the damage. Most people got about 10 messages, which tracks well with the 200 a day most people receive on average.
I found this gem in one Inbox, containing malware and a funny subject, "CNN: Aliens send us cartoon messages!"


12:06 PM All the mailx.box files are clean now. Users are not making any more noise, but they have questioned my sanity.


So what did I learn from this Social Experiment? What would a World Without Spam Filters be like?

1. For starters, deleting real messages is a highly likely possibility, both by users in a hurry to clean their Inbox and by the Notes email administrator.

2. It took me about 15 minutes to clean up 45 minutes of spam. That makes the clean up and delete job, as an administrator, to be about 15 minutes per hour, or 2 hours per day.

3. Spam is still heavily reliant on random dictionary attacks, hence the amount of delivery failure reports.

4. Backscatter causes collateral damage to others outside the organization.

5. Servers would be overwhelmed with the workload, trying diligently to deliver every message as if it were a valid email.

6. Portable phone userrs: It is not just the inconvenience of hitting the *delete* button. It is the mind-numbing distraction of having the phone go off every time an email message comes, especially when you are in a meeting but also waiting for a critical email that needs an immediate response. The tension over false alarms kills concentration.

7. Attention Deficit Disorder: Some studies have been done which detail how much productivity is lost for every interruption. The cost of a Spam email isn't just the time it takes for our minds (and hands) to figure out it is Spam and ignore/delete it, it is also the amount of time it takes us to get our mind focused again which can magnify the loss of productive thinking time. Without a Spam filter, I would NEVER enable any sort of pop-up 'you have email' alerts in my mail client, as I do a lot of programming and project work where I need time to work for a stretch without interruption in order to keep up the quality of my output.

8. The cost of spam without a filter is nearly 120 times what the filter costs. This is based on the fact that, between deleting spam and hunting for good messages in the mess takes about 30 minutes a day, or about 120 hours annually. At a pay rate of $30 (25 Euros) per hour, which approximately equals the annual cost of spam filtering, the payback is only a single day of usage. Myself, I couldn't stand even one hour with the filter off, let alone one entire day.

9. Spam Filters, although imperfect, are an absolute critical necessity.

10. In a World Without Spam Filters, email would be almost useless.








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