Spam a lot? Not if the EC has its way


BRUSSELS -- The European Commission on Monday called on member governments to tighten Internet policing as broadcasters and media players continue to look to expand services on the Web.

The Commission -- the European Union's executive authority -- urged member states to act faster to combat spam, spyware and malicious software. "It is time to turn the repeated political concern about spam into concrete actions to fight spam," EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said.

Reding said moderate investments could deliver significant results. For example, in the Netherlands, spam was cut 85% by investing a relatively modest €570,000 ($747,680) in equipment. "I'd like to see other countries achieving similar results through more efficient enforcement," she said.

The Commission will revisit the EU laws on spam, spyware and malicious software next year when it proposes new rules to strengthen user privacy and security. The proposals are expected to oblige service providers to notify security breaches that lead to personal data loss or interruptions of service supply. National regulatory authorities would also have the power to ensure that operators implement adequate security policies.

Legal tools to fight threats such as spam already exist, in particular the EU-wide Privacy Directive adopted in 2002. However, lax wording, a paucity of enforcement funds and expertise, coupled with seeming disinterest from those tasked with enforcement, means the spam trade continues to thrive.

Reding blamed EU governments for not implementing the rules forcefully enough. To improve, they should now lay down clear lines of responsibility to use the tools available under EU law effectively, she said. The Commissioner added that good cooperation between enforcement authorities was crucial because of the criminal trend in spam and its cross-border aspects.

Reding also called on the Internet industry users to play its part by applying proper filtering policies and assuring good online commercial practices in line with data protection law. In Finland, such filtering measures have already reduced spam from 80% to 30%, she said.

Security firms Symantec and MessageLabs estimate that spam accounts for 54%-85% of all e-mail. Corporate e-mail specialists Postini are even more damning, saying that ten out of every eleven e-mails sent are spam, and that every 193rd e-mail is infected with a virus. In 2005, Ferris Research estimated spam to cost €39 billion ($51.1 billion) worldwide, while Computer Economics calculated malicious software to cost €11 billion ($14.4 billion) globally.

IT security company Sophos said earlier this month that the U.S. was the main source of global spam, accounting for 21.6%, followed by China at 13.4%, and France and South Korea at 6.3% each. It said most unsolicited emails are now sent from zombie PCs -- computers infected with Trojans, worms and viruses that turn them into spam-spewing bots.