- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

Hot Russian teens soon will follow us wherever we go.

Or at least advertisements for Web sites featuring them.

Spammers are poised to send billions of unsolicited text messages hawking pornography, mortgage loans and Viagra pills, adding wireless devices to the list of places corrupted by unwanted e-mail.

The problem already is widespread in Europe and Japan, and the United States is likely to be the next battlefield for spammers looking to assault those who walk and talk, antispam experts said. And it could prove costly to wireless users who pay for each text message they receive or are charged for every message above an assigned limit.

“As consumers use wireless devices more and more, spam will get to where the eyeballs are,” said Ray Everett-Church, general counsel for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, a nonprofit group that supports antispam legislation.

Unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam, already is a major concern for computer users worldwide. It accounts for more than half of all e-mail sent and costs tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity and for services to filter it out.

Until now, cell phones and other wireless devices in the United States have been largely spam-free, mainly because they can’t handle the type of advertisements that spammers find most effective, analysts said. Overseas, wireless spam has become a huge problem because there are more users and the devices are more advanced. Europeans send about 50 times the number of text messages than U.S. wireless users.

NTT DoCoMo, the largest Japanese wireless carrier, said it processes up to 800 million spam messages daily, out of 1 billion total. Some wireless providers in Japan have had to halt service because they can’t handle all the messages.

The United States will become the next victim within two years, analysts said, particularly if demand for wireless technology continues.

Some observers said spammers soon will assault cell phones and other wireless devices with the same zeal as they do traditional e-mail accounts.

But there is some evidence to suggest that wireless spam will not hit the United States as badly as it has hit Europe or Japan. Wireless carriers, monitoring the problem overseas, have developed filters and other methods to block spam from reaching customers. Companies such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T; Wireless said they block e-mail from known spammers and allow customers to block text messages from certain addresses.

“So far, the wireless industry has been able to keep spam at a minimum,” said Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. “We continue to monitor the networks and adapt.”

Analysts said the wireless industry has been forced to address the spam problem before it fully develops, mainly because the capacity of wireless networks can’t be expanded in the same way as traditional e-mail capacity.

“There’s a much greater incentive to get things right because it’s a lot more expensive to add capacity in a wireless environment,” Mr. Everett-Church said. “You can’t just pop up a new antenna or put up a new cell tower.”

Some providers have responded with lawsuits. Verizon Wireless filed suit in June against a spammer who the company claims sent thousands of sexually explicit text messages to customers.

Wireless users in the United States might avoid the quantity of spam seen overseas because of the way phone numbers are assigned to carriers. Numbers are distributed to carriers in blocks of 1,000, as opposed to the 10,000 or more in Japan. This makes it more difficult for spammers to guess correct addresses and send messages in mass quantities.

Unlike with traditional e-mail, most wireless companies charge customers a small fee for each text message they send and receive. Verizon Wireless charges 10 cents for every message sent and two cents for every one received. A spokesman for the company said it will credit customers for any spam they receive.

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