Spam Spiked, then Slowed in February

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The start of February saw Internet spam levels rise to as high as 79.5 percent of all e-mail messages due to a spike in botnet activity and spammers leveraging the financial crisis and Valentine's Day, according to MessageLabs.

This is despite the fact that spam levels declined by 1.3 per cent to an average of 73.3 percent for the same month, states the February 2009 MessageLabs Intelligence Report.

MessageLabs is now part of Symantec, a provider of security, storage and systems management solutions. MessageLabs Intelligence is a source of data and analysis for messaging security issues, trends and statistics.

"February saw the spammers pulling at both the heart and the purse strings with the emphasis on Valentine's Day and the global recession. Although spam levels declined slightly this month, the level of activity around Valentine's themed spam reached unprecedented highs accounting for nine percent of all spam messages," said Paul Wood, MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst, Symantec. "With the financial crisis front of mind for many organisations and consumers, spammers and phishers are using this topic to their advantage and targeting people when times are tough."

Recession spam

For the first time in more than a year, February saw the reappearance of search engine redirects which topically referenced the financial crisis. The 'recession spam' e-mail messages contained text such as 'Money is tight, times are hard. Christmas is over. Time to get a new watch!' The phishing community also used the current financial climate to their advantage. At a time when concerned consumers may not be surprised to hear from their banks, phishing attacks have risen to one in 190.4 emails, from one in 396.2 in January 2009.

Since the beginning of February, the proportion of Valentine's Day themed spam rose from two per cent to more than nine per cent, with the vast majority of this type of spam, almost seven per cent, originating from the Cutwail (Pandex) botnet. Currently the largest botnet, Cutwail dedicated approximately 90 per cent of its output to Valentine's Day messages, estimated at seven billion each day.

MessageLabs Intelligence intercepted a new technique involving forged headers on targeted Trojan attacks. Added to an e-mail as it is passed between two mail servers, headers act as a vapour trail so that the path of that e-mail can be tracked. With many attackers not bothering to include headers as a means of falsely authenticating their e-mails, the use of real-world examples in the most recent attempts made the e-mail stand out as being suspicious.

Spam levels in Hong Kong were 72.8 per cent, 67.8 per cent in China and 65.6 per cent in Japan. Virus activity in India rose by 0.16 per cent to 1 in 197.4 emails, placing it in the top position for viruses.

This story, "Spam Spiked, then Slowed in February" was originally published by MIS Asia.

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