No One Has Any Idea How Much Work Email Is Spam

from the different-studies,-different-numbers dept

Can we just say, for the record, that no one actually has a good handle on how much spam is out there? This is absolutely true when it comes to corporate email accounts. In 2001, we had a report that said that only 21% of all emails were work related, with the rest being junk or personal emails… but a year later the story was that office employees don’t get much spam at work. Last year, a report came out saying that spam made up 33% of office email, which seems lower than the other studies (which also said another 25% of work emails were personal, and thus 42% — twice of that earlier study — were work related). The latest such study claims a flip of that original stat: 21% of corporate emails are spam. So, basically, over the past few years, we’ve had reports of lots of spam and not very much spam at all when it comes to the office — suggesting that, frankly, no one really knows how much spam there is in the office. Also, to be honest, the aggregate number is pretty useless, as different companies (and different people within a company) probably face vastly different levels of “spam threat.” So, rather than focusing on how much corporate email is spam, why not focus on how effective IT departments are at stopping the spam from those who are most targeted?

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Comments on “No One Has Any Idea How Much Work Email Is Spam”

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dotlizard (user link) says:

hardly any

I get mail out of the main information mailbox for our company, an address that is publicly available on our site. We get maybe 4 spams a day, and MS Outlook catches most of them.

I have fewer spam horror stories to tell these days. Maybe the spam business isn’t as booming as it used to be? Hard to find ignorant suckers with credit cards to buy the penis pills?

Be nice to actually have some real statistics, to know if spam is on the decline.

Matthew says:

My corporate address has been around about 6 years, but we use a pretty heavy duty spam filter company, Postini, to keep the bad stuff out.

In a work week i prolly receive 200 messages, give or take a handful. Of those, maybe 6-10 are external spam messages with the latest penny stock scam, or something like that.

My Internet account, conversely, gets 5 or 6 real messages from one of my fantasy teams, or friends, a month and about 2000 spams.

My private email account gets about 50 messages a week from family and product watchers and 3 or 4 spams a day.

I’ve seen some stats about what postini blocks from entering our servers…its really disturbing. One morning, in one hour, there were 1.2million messages out of 1.4 blocked for spam. Course that was for 200k+ customers and not necessarily corporate related.

wraeth says:


I have several E-Mail accounts: one at Hotmail, one at Gmail, two with my ISP, one at work, one with netscape.

Of those, the one I’ve had the longest is my Hotmail – about five years. Because I have my other accounts, I generally use my Hotmail account for things that I think my end up giving me a bucket-load of spam, yet I only receive about 15 spam messages a day. From my Gmail, between 5-10, and my two ISP accounts have none (although sometimes I wish I did – that way it would look like somebody was sending me messages!).

I think the trick is to be a bit careful with what you do with your E-Mail account. While I used my Hotmail account as a ‘cover account’, I was still cautious of what I signed up for, and never replied to spam messages.

wraeth says:


Oh, and I think another contributing factor would probably be the originality of your account name. For example, has a much high chance of being spammed (using a random generator to get names) than

For the record, I actually know someone who had that as their Hotmail address (they don’t anymore). That’s what I call original!

Anonymous Coward says:

The Barracuda I manage blocks between 80%-95% spam on any given day. Some days it blocks in the high range, other days not. It really depends which time the zombies are turned on I guess.

I get the occassional complaint from the admin dept about getting a few emails in, so I log into the barracuda and do some more message flagging. Then all is good for another 3 months.

Not to mention the block lists on top of that.

Those using Outlook never complain, and people like me who have Bayesian filter that has been thoroughly trained really don’t suffer that much, and I have two domains with catch-all accounts (it really helps train my little filter 😉 )

Having a domain really saves me from a lot of spam, because if I sign up for something where I Just need a download, I use and if they onsell that address, I block it. It also helps having a domain when you change ISPs (I know businesses that use their ISP address as their business address… idiots).

mgumgu says:

work related spam

i think there is another point which should be considered too. yes i receive corporate spam. i am not interested in some sports activity some small department has in my big big corp but i still get the announcement emails. there are many “information” or “activity” emails like this my employer sends me that i regard spam. i am not interested in the “new tv ads for our company” nor “some conference we sponsored but do not have free tickets to”. yes “my” company sends me spam. and at least 2-3 a day ..

RandomBoy says:

no spam for me

I get NO spam at all in my work inbox. I didn’t give my address to any “friends” so I don’t get copied on “funny” forwards or stupid chain mails and I didn’t use it to subscribe to any websites. It’s not listed on any public web directory either. I check my junk mail folder as well and it’s also empty. I think this is the best way to fight spam.

K. says:

Re: no spam for me

What about “funny” mails or chain-mails that are sent to from WITHIN the enterprise? I had to deal with a lot of those coming from co-workers, until I replied with a thresten to blacklist them or personally spoke to them regarding the time and resource waste I condider those messages to be. Now, it either gets flagged as spam by outlook (since I told it who the corporate spammers were) or people watch out from sending me such messages. All in all, these (co worker spam) used to consitute about 10-15% of my daily inbox, now it’s nearing 0.01% with regular “spam” at near 0.0001%.

John (profile) says:

Don't give out your work e-mail

How many people use their work e-mail address on travel sites or shopping sites or other personal sites? If you never give out that address, chances are very high that you won’t get spam.
Then, even if spam does get sent to a work address, many companies have filters on their servers to block the spam. Then, the user may have filters in their e-mail program.

Michael Armstrong (user link) says:

At the office...

I run our spam filtering system. We receive roughly 15000 messages per day, nearly 60% of which are junk. Our filter is a bit aggressive at the moment as it tends to block regular newsletters that people have genuinely subscribed to and wish to receive.

At home it’s worse. Fully 75% of my incoming email is truly junk. And that’s even allowing for the newsletters and stuff like shipping notifications and watchers.

Boy, I should really install a better filter at home. I’m doing most of that with procmail and lots of manual tuning.

Anonymous Coward says:

The first story ‘21% of all emails were work related’ isn’t about spam. I doubt that other 79 percent was SPAM. I would guess that 20-40% was spam, and the other part was personal communication. Idiots forwarding those baby pictures, stupid jokes, chain letters, etc.

The other two numbers that suggest spam getting to our users is between 20-33% seems about right.

Danno says:


How much spam any individual gets is directly tied to how many places their address is listed in (and how public those listing are).

For example, a few years back, everyone who signed up for Hotmail was automatically added to a public list. It wasn’t hard for spammers to generate long mailing lists from that, and hotmail users were plagued with spam for quite some time.

Being an I.T. consultant, PC Support Tech, System Administrator, and Web Site Designer, I have a little bit of experience with techniques to mask your email address from the public.

If you’re doing your own list, it’s best to create images instead of listing your email address in text. Or, you could link to a form mailer, and not post your email address at all.

Being a regular user, be aware that the more sites you give you address to (whether they say they sell your info or not) will effect how much spam you get. Don’t use your typical email address if you’re signing up for gambling sites, porn sites, sweepstakes, contests, ‘free ipods’, any other ‘free’ offers, personals sites, etc, etc, etc.

There is increasingly less spam generated by spyware programs (that harvest addresses from your own address book), because of the public awareness of such programs – but some will still come from that.

Corporations that have their own websites often have much more spam than the users see. Back when I was working for a school division, it wasn’t uncommon for the spam filter (server side) to catch 15,000 spam mails a day. With 4,500 users, this would amount to approximately twice as much as non-spam mail (and many users email accounts were never used/activated by the user).

Joe Smith says:


I think it all depends on how effective your spam filter is. At work, our spam filter seems to be not very effective and I get 90% spam – about 100 per day – coming through to my desktop. Our tech guy says he is working on improving the filter.

At home (with a different, bigger, carrier which flags spam as it comes through) only a few a week make it past the filter (of course some legitimate messages may be going straight into the trash).

I like Spam with mustard says:

Oh the irony...

I used to work for a direct marketing company..aka Give-us-your-personal-info-so-we-can-sell-it-for-a-profit.

Periodically, they would include the corporate directory on the list sales. When I started getting spam from our clients, it was apparent what was happening. So every few months I’d go and purge my info.

On the bright side, I’ve lowered my debt, have a negative interest rate on my mortgage, and my wife has never been more pleased! =)

wanna be tech guy says:

spam filter

To give an idea, our filter has received 910,333 emails over the past six months, 441,964 have been identified by spam based on content, and 326,829 have ben flagged as coming from know spammers. This is roughly 84% of our incoming mail. AN average user may get 1-2 spams a week.

If not for the filter we would have a lot of lost pruductivty. These results may be high but you can be sure that spam will not go away.

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