How the Fight Against Spam is a Green IT Initiative

I read with great interest the news last week that researchers had taken down the world's biggest spam botnet, known as Rustock, reducing global spam levels by 39 percent. My interest was purely personal, since botnets fascinate me.

But the story has only gotten better from there.

It turns out that a division of Microsoft (probably the coolest-sounding division there, the Digital Crimes Unit) has taken credit for the success of "Operation b49," in partnership with computer experts at universities and other companies.

In addition to having a deep vested interest in keeping spam and malware off of users' computers, Microsoft also used intellectual property as a way to crack the botnet wide open. "As in the legal and technical measure that enabled us to take down the Waledac botnet, Microsoft filed suit against the anonymous operators of the Rustock botnet, based in part on the abuse of Microsoft trademarks in the bot's spam," writes the DCU's senior attorney, Richard Boscovitz, on a Technet blog.

And in addition to making an at-least-temporary dent in the steady flow of spam to the world's junk mailboxes, the Rustock takedown had a major environmental benefit as well.

Susan Karemer at Cleantechnica connects the botnet takedown to an earlier report from McAfee about the carbon footprint of spam, and says that the move has saved about 13 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Transmitting, processing and filtering spam has been estimated by McAfee at taking an astonishing 33 billion kilowatt hours – that's 33 terawatt hours (TWh) – of the global energy supply, every year!
Enough power, according to McAfee, in their "The Carbon Footprint of Spam" study, to "power 2.4 million homes" -- in the first world.
In the third world -- where Bill Gates does humanitarian work -- that would go much further, and likely be enough to at least power some lighting for the last 2 billion people in the world that currently do not even have any electricity all.
Or the world could shutter quite a few dirty coal plants.
Cutting 33 terawatt hours of wasted energy worldwide by 39% is very, very, very huge. That's been one hefty carbon footprint.

 Spam photo CC-licensed by contri.