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The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, April 2004

  |  May 14, 2004   |  Comments

The spam volume is rising, e-mail trust is eroding, and viruses are rampant, but Internet users are sending more legitimate messages and CAN-SPAM is making a positive impact.

Spam continues its assault on the inbox, claiming 64 percent of the incoming messages, according to the 96 million emails filtered by Brightmail's Probe Network in April 2004. While the ratio of product-related and financial-related messages decreased slightly, the two categories account for most of the unsolicited emails that Internet users received over the month. With the advent of warmer weather, the volume of health and leisure emails increased from March to April, while a number of other categories maintained the same month-over-month ratio.

March 2004 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam March Volume April Volume Change
Products 25% 23% -2
Financial 20% 18% -2
Adult 15% 15% 0
Health 7% 9% +2
Internet 7% 7% 0
Scams 7% 7% 0
Leisure 6% 7% +2
Other 5% 6% +1
Fraud 5% 5% 0
Political 2% 2% 0
Spiritual 1% 1% 0
Source: Brightmail Logistics and Operations Center (BLOC)

The incremental spam increases haven't deterred Internet users from using email, in fact Scott Petry, founder and vice president of products and engineering for Postini, found significant year-over-year increases.

In Petry's evaluation of May 2003 versus May 2004 messages, he found "...spam as a percentage of mail has increased 8 percent...legitimate mail per user has increased 19 percent...spam per user has increased 76 percent."

"I think the important line is the spam:legit ratio," Petry said, referring to the differences between 2003 and 2004. In May 2003, Postini found 2.8 spam messages for every legitimate email. One year later, the ratio increased to 3.9 spam messages for every legitimate email.

Postini assessed April 2004's spam volume at approximately 78 percent of all processed emails, an increase from 77 percent in March 2004, and has already classified 80 percent of May's processed messages as spam.

The overwhelming bulk of unwanted messages continue to originate within the U.S., but Commtouch illustrates the global connection. The firm found that while more than 60 percent of unwanted messages originate within the U.S., 71 percent of spammers' Web sites are hosted in China. The U.S. lagged considerably behind China, hosting 22 percent of spam sites, followed by Brazil at 2.3 percent, and South Korea at 1.8 percent.

While Commtouch reports that it saw a record number of spam outbreaks in the month of April, the company also reports an increasing number of email messages complying with CAN-SPAM. Roughly 5 percent of all spam messages in April complied with CAN-SPAM requirements, an increase from 3 percent in March.

Further indication that CAN-SPAM may be making a positive impact comes from MX Logic, Inc. with observations that 12 percent of spam complies with every facet of the law – except for consistency between subject line consistent and body of the email.

Compliance and semi-compliance may have come too late for Internet users whose trust in email has already eroded. An April 2004 survey of 650 U.S. banking accountholders from Cyota revealed that over 80 percent claimed "phishing" [define] has affected their trust in email. As a result, 75 percent were less likely to respond to email from their banks, and over 65 percent indicated that they were less likely to sign-up or continue to use their banks online services.

Hidden among the phishing and fraudulent emails are those bringing viruses, and Netsky topped the list of threats once again. Of the 5.9 billion messages Postini processed in April, more than 75.8 million were categorized as viruses – a 24 percent increase from March.

Top Ten Viruses of March 2004:
Virus Name Quantity Detected
1. netsky 68,157,182
2. sober 2,534,610
3. bagle 1,209,199
4. klez 844,432
5. dumaru 759,452
6. mydoom 723,049
7. lovgate 299,359
8. urlspoof 192,264
9. swen 183,586
10. sobig 118,976
Source: Postini

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