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The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, June 2004

  |  July 12, 2004   |  Comments

The volume of unsolicited e-mail inches up; Viagra is the most advertised product; and CAN-SPAM is credited with legitimizing spammers.

Spam continues to gain space in email boxes as the ratio crept up to 65 percent of all messages in June, according to the Symantec/Brightmail Probe Network. This one percentage point increase comes after a month where spam hit a temporary plateau, holding steady at 64 percent. To illustrate the rapid growth in spam, Brightmail measured the unsolicited email at just 49 percent in June 2003.

Most of the spam categories remained unchanged in their volume over the month, but product-related messages increased from 22 percent to 25 percent. Political spam is likely to be in a temporary stall as the November elections will propel the number of related messages upward.

June 2004 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam May Volume June Volume Change
Products 22% 25% +3
Financial 17% 18% +1
Adult 16% 15% -1
Scams 9% 9% 0
Health 10% 8% -2
Other 6% 6% 0
Fraud 5% 5% 0
Internet 5% 5% 0
Leisure 5% 4% -1
Political 2% 3% 0
Spiritual 2% 2% 0
Source: Brightmail Logistics and Operations Center (BLOC)

Commtouch concurred with Brightmail that product-related messages were the most prevalent, but the anti-spam firm took the analysis a step further, finding that offers for drugs topped the list of email subjects during the first half of 2004. "Viagra" was the product that was hawked most often, accounting for 14.1 percent of unsolicited messages.

Top Products Pitched in
Spam Messages,
First Half of 2004
Drugs 29.53%
Mortgage/Refinance 9.68%
Organ Enlargement 7.05%
Shopping 6.86%
Software sales 6.11%
Financial 5.87%
Work from home/jobs 4.06%
Dating 3.15%
Porn 3.10%
Weight Loss 2.62%
Beauty products/Health 2.53%
Debt solutions 2.48%
University Degrees 2.43%
Vehicle Warranties 1.86%
Source: Commtouch

Avner Amram, executive vice president at Commtouch, observes that spam is moving into the mainstream, resulting in fewer porn and casino messages and more products that interest a larger group of Internet users. "Products promoted via spam are now legitimate, everyday-use products," said Amram.

Amram also credits CAN-SPAM with encouraging, rather than discouraging spammers. "CAN-SPAM may be the reason that spam is increasing. CAN-SPAM expects emailers to follow five or six rules...if you do that your email is legitimate," said Amram.

"When dealing with spam, the rule used to be to never use the unsubscribe button. Now, CAN-SPAM says to use the unsubscribe button," Amram continued.

Internet users still believe that they shouldn't attempt to unsubscribe from email, finding it quicker and safer to just delete the offending messages, and Amram's observations were confirmed by a June 2004 study conducted by Vircom. The firm found that "aggressive responses" to spammers – such as opting out, replying, clicking on links, or purchasing products – can actually trigger up to a 300 percent increase in unsolicited email.

Compounding the increase in spam for the month of June are findings from Postini that indicate 1.7 percent growth in the amount of virus attempting to infiltrate corporate networks. "Directory harvest attacks (DHAs)" – a technique which spammers use to collect valid email addresses from corporate and service provider mail servers – rose 5.4 percent from May to June.

Top Ten Viruses of June 2004:
Virus Name Quantity Detected
1. netsky 49,737,325
2. zafi 21,676,180
3. mime 16,415,611
4. objectdata 7,341,821
5. sober 6,797,741
6. bagle 3,358,045
7. lovgate 1,404,237
8. klez 720,899
9. mydoom 671,459
10. dumaru 608,592
Source: Postini

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