City received almost 39 million e-mails in 2010

Vast majority are spam or contain viruses
Wednesday, January 12, 2011 | 4:57 p.m. CST
Eighty-five percent of all email received by the City of Columbia is spam or contains viruses.

COLUMBIA — Think you get a lot of spam in your e-mail? It could be much worse.

Columbia city government officials and departments received 39 million e-mails in 2010, but 34.5 million, or 85 percent, were blocked or quarantined for being spam or containing viruses, according to statistics from the city's Information Technology Department.

Information Technology Director Robert Simms said he wanted to share the statistics with city officials, including the City Council, to illustrate the effectiveness of the city’s e-mail filtering system. 

“It shows what we are doing is protecting the city,” Simms said. “If we turned the filter off, you’d be surprised what you’d get.”

Simms doesn’t track the nature of each spam e-mail but said he believes the city would be in greater danger of a cyber attack if the filter were not in place. Simms said the city uses a combination of software to filter e-mail, but he didn't want to name the programs for fear of tipping off would-be spammers or hackers.

After all spam and viral emails were removed, the city received slightly more than 4.2 million legitimate e-mails, and city officials or employees sent out almost 2.5 million, a difference of 1.7 million.

The Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments, as well as the City Council, received more e-mails than most other city departments, Simms said. Still, council members said they're not overwhelmed by the messages in their inboxes. 

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she receives 15 to 25 e-mails a day and tries to respond personally to as many as possible. The messages generally are issue-driven and constructive, she said.

Council members said the issues that generated the most e-mails in 2010 were urban chickens, Hinkson Creek and the February SWAT team raid that gained national attention when a video of the raid hit YouTube.

“By and large I don’t get a lot of complaints,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll get a few on the snow.”

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl reported similar numbers and said he receives complaints and thank-yous.

Council members differ in their opinions of e-mail as a form of communication. Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said he prefers e-mail for its convenience, while Nauser said she prefers texting for its versatility.

Kespohl said he prefers the real thing: human interaction.

“I like to talk to someone personally if I can,” he said. “I really like to be face to face.”

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