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Germany

Spammers Jam German Government E-Mail

The German government's e-mail system was brought to a standstill by spammers over the last week. The amount of junk and virus-infected mail has posed an ever growing problem to both governments and European businesses.

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Why isn't the chancellor writing back?

For Germans wanting to get a message to their governing officials over the past few days, the post office was a more reliable messenger than e-mail.

The unit charged with monitoring and filtering the emails of government ministeries, the IVBB, said Friday that it had registered more than 510,000 unwanted e-mails in the past week. Employees reported that there was often a three-day lag on most of their e-mails.

A spokesman for the interior ministry said that anti-virus software had picked up a virus and a high number of spam e-mails. "We are not investigating what background this might have, or whether this is just a normal extra load of spam mails," he said.

Roughly one in every two e-mails sent to the government is junk mail, according to the IVBB, and the number of viruses is growing. While the percentage of virus-infected mails in 2003 was just 3 percent, the figure in early 2004 was closer to 10 percent. In May, 20 percent of the e-mails sent contained some sort of virus, according to the authorities.

EU: Not enough anti-virus protection

European companies report similar problems. Many don't have adequate anti-virus protection software, according to a report by the software maker McAfee. The company said firms are forced to spend up to €2.5 billion ($3 billion) a year to prevent and eliminate virus and junk e-mail attacks.

Germany's government sets aside around €7 million of its €32 billion annual IT budget for security. But that hasn't been enough for the European Union, which wants the country to pass a tougher anti-spam mail law the kind found in other European countries and the United States. The country's strict data protection laws have so far made it difficult for politicians to tackle the problem of junk e-mail. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's coalition government proposed a bill earlier in the year designed to punish those who send spam mail. But the bill hasn't gotten much attention so far in parliament.

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