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The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, March 2004

  |  April 8, 2004   |  Comments

The spam ratio only grew by 1 percentage point, but the economic damage from malware was staggering.

The volume of unwanted messages inched up another percentage point during March 2004, pushing the spam ratio to 63 percent. Of the 93 billion messages Brightmail's Probe Network filtered during the month, 58.6 billion were identified as spam. Unsolicited product-related messages continue to garner the largest piece of the spam pie, while scam messages experienced the biggest decrease.

March 2004 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam Feb. Volume March Volume Change
Products 24% 25% +1
Financial 18% 20% +2
Adult 14% 15% +1
Health 7% 7% 0
Internet 6% 7% +1
Scams 11% 7% -4
Leisure 6% 6% 0
Fraud 4% 5% +1
Other 7% 5% -2
Political 2% 2% 0
Spiritual 1% 1% 0
Source: Brightmail Logistics and Operations Center (BLOC)

Despite the mounting volume, consumers are becoming increasingly spam-savvy. The overwhelming majority of the 1,000 respondents to an online survey, conducted for Symantec by Applied Research, reported that they delete spam without opening the email, and roughly half identify spam just by looking at the sender's name. Interestingly, the survey, which compiled the results by age group, found that seniors were the most spam-savvy online demographic, as they are less likely to take inappropriate actions when dealing with unsolicited messages.

The messages from the U.S. are not abating, as Brightmail's Probe Network found that 80 percent of spam messages were in English, and Commtouch Inc. identified 60 percent of all spam originating in the United States during the month of March, with China a very distant second place at 6 percent.

Oren Drori, director of product marketing, Commtouch Inc., identifies two types of spammers. Type 1 are essentially "aggressive marketers, but ones who do not define themselves as criminal" or use criminal methods, while Type 2 are "hardcore, rogue spammers – those use very sneaky ways for spamming: multilevel marketing, planting Trojan (viruses) in PCs of innocent unaware DSL users etc."

According to Drori, Type 1 spammers are already using non-U.S. server farms for distributing spam (even though they are Americans, targeting the U.S. market), and greater numbers of these spammers will outsource their distribution to non-US countries – typically eastern Europe and southeast Asia.

Each attack from Type 2 spammers is actually distributed from thousands of sources in parallel, and it is almost impossible to trace the original spammer. "Type 1 (semi-legit marketers) are responsible for about 20 percent of the spam, and Type 2, the rogue ones, account for about 80 percent. So, as a bottom line, we can still expect very significant numbers to originate from the U.S.," Drori says.

As a Pew Internet & American Life Project report found, there have been more unwanted messages since CAN-SPAM was enacted. Avner Amram, executive vice president, Commtouch Inc., says, "Can-Spam will make it harder to spam, but not stop or slow it down."

Amram continues, "...Can-Spam can help to some extent, it will certainly have a deterrent effect on some of the spammers, which will stop their wrongdoing, but it will certainly push some of the spammers to spam from overseas (especially when in this global era, they are not required to physically go and live overseas, they can just use overseas computers)."

All these unwanted messages are adding up to $4 billion a year in lost corporate productivity, according to the Yankee Group, and mi2g estimates that the "Big Three" malware variants – NetSky, Bagle and MyDoom – generated combined economic damage of $128 billion worldwide in the first quarter of 2004.

NetSky topped Postini's list of virus threats for March, with MyDoom and Bagle lagging considerably behind. Of the more than 4.6 billion messages Postini processed, roughly 61.2 million were identified with viruses, measuring an increase of 6 percent from February 2004.

Top Ten Viruses of March 2004:
Virus Name Quantity Detected
1. netsky 51,993,818
2. mydoom 2,679,777
3. bagle 1,983,996
4. klez 1,204,050
5. dumaru 1,202,400
6. sober 379,330
7. swen 268,986
8. sobig 166,479
9. mimail 154,090
10. bugbear 116,622
Source: Postini

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