Report: Schools swamped by spam

Kids in the U.K. are being exposed to porn ads and the temptation to click on virus links, an e-mail firm warns.

British students are being overwhelmed with increasing levels of spam, much of which carries potentially damaging attachments, according to a new report.

Figures released by Email Systems, an e-mail management specialist, indicated that 60 percent of e-mails arriving in in-boxes at U.K. schools over the past six months are spam or contain viruses.

While that figure is largely in keeping with the global average, Neil Hammerton, managing director of Email Systems, said it's more worrying because of the age of the spam recipients.

"It's deeply concerning that young children are being exposed to these e-mails, particularly those of an offensive nature such as hardcore pornography," Hammerton said, adding that while adults may still find such images offensive, they are better prepared to deal with them.

He added that children are prone to curiosity and may be tempted to follow links that could lead to a whole raft of associated problems, such as downloading Trojans or spyware, potentially adding to the spam problem by creating an open proxy or a "zombie" PC.

Email Systems specializes in filtering e-mail for the academic sector, and in association with the London Grid for Learning, it filters mail for 1.1 million in-boxes in the United Kingdom.

Hammerton said his company intercepts around 99 percent of spam destined for schools but that many schools and education authorities have still not woken up to the problem. He believes some initially implemented the wrong strategies and are now not prepared to admit their mistakes.

"The only really effective way of combating this problem is with a managed service model," Hammerton said, adding that the volumes of traffic involved cannot be dealt with on the schools' networks. "Those schools who have already invested in software may be unwilling to write off that investment and change, but they will have to," he said.

Will Sturgeon of Silicon.com reported from London.

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