The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, February 2004

Just as it has for the past few months, the spam volume inched up another 2 percentage points in February, accounting for 62 percent of email messages, according to Brightmail’s Probe Network. The mounting volume can make email users yearn for the “good old days” a year ago, when spam only comprised 42 percent of all messages.

Valentine’s Day compounded the volume as spammers took advantage of the holiday to send more than 15 million unsolicited messages – compared to just one million in 2003. Surprisingly, adult-related spam dropped from 17 percent of the month’s volume to 14 percent, while scam spam picked up 3 percentage points. Many of the other categories remained flat for the month.

February 2004 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam Jan. Volume Feb. Volume Change
Products 22% 24% +2
Financial 20% 18% -2
Adult 17% 14% -3
Scams 8% 11% +3
Other 7% 7% 0
Health 7% 7% 0
Leisure 6% 6% 0
Internet 5% 6% +1
Fraud 4% 4% 0
Political 2% 2% 0
Spiritual 2% 1% -1
Source: Brightmail Logistics and Operations Center (BLOC)

While filters offer a solution, roughly two-thirds of the more than 500 respondents to a survey conducted by Outsource Research Consulting, LLC for Goodmail Systems, Inc. experienced losing messages to spam filters. Twice as many (50 percent) lost personal email due to filters than newsletters and subscriptions (25 percent), and offers from respectable companies (24 percent). Unfortunately, 22 percent also lost important work-related email, and 21 percent reportedly missed order and shipment confirmations.

Richard Gingras, president and CEO of Goodmail Systems, notes, “I think the data from this December survey is indicative of both the increasing problem of false positives and the growing awareness of the issue by consumers.”

While spam is a global issue, Sophos, Inc. found that more than half of the unsolicited messages originated from the U.S. The firm’s findings virtually mirror March 2003 research from The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that also lists the U.S. at the top of the spamming heap.

Spam Origins,
February 2004
United States 56.74%
Canada 6.80%
China (& Hong Kong) 6.24%
South Korea 5.77%
Netherlands 2.13%
Brazil 2.00%
Germany 1.83%
France 1.50%
United Kingdom 1.31%
Australia 1.21%
Mexico 1.19%
Spain 1.05%
Others 12.23%
Source: Sophos, Inc.

According to the Radicati Group, Inc., spam will cost $41.6 billion in financial losses at year-end 2004 – a 103 percent increase from 2003 – and malicious code (viruses, worms and Trojan horses) will cost the economy $35 billion. More corporate users are concerned about improving security against viruses (42 percent), than reducing spam (34 percent).

MyDoom.A remained at the top of the virus chart for the second month, according to Central Command, Inc., but NetSky or Bagle will likely topple it over the coming weeks.

February 2004 Dirty Dozen
Ranking Virus Name Percentage
1. Worm/MyDoom.A 65.3%
2. Worm/Sober.C 8.8%
3. Worm/Netsky.B 6.4%
4. Worm/Netsky.C 3.5%
5. Worm/Bagle.B 1.6%
6. Worm/MiMail.I 1.3%
7. Worm/BugBear.B 1.2%
8. Worm/Bagle.E 0.7%
9. Worm/MiMail.J 0.6%
10. Worm/Klez.E (including G) 0.6%
11. Worm/Dumaru.A 0.5%
12. Worm/Bagle.C 0.4%
Others 9.1%
Note: The table above represents the most prevalent
viruses for February 2004, number one being the
most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

Symantec Security Response echoed the February findings, placing MyDoom at the forefront of the month’s malicious code threats and vulnerabilities.

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • Product-oriented messages advertise general goods or services.
  • Financial marketing messages are those that make reference to money, the stock market, credit reports, loans, and investments.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • “Other” encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.
  • The health category offers health-related products or services, such as herbal remedies or medical treatments.
  • Internet- or computer-oriented emails are those that advertise related products or services, such as Web hosting, or design.
  • Leisure-related messages are those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos.
  • Unwanted political messages pertain to those advertising a candidate’s campaign and requests for donations to a particular political party or cause.
  • Spiritually oriented messages include offerings for psychics, organized religion, and astrology.
  • Fraudulent emails are intentionally misguiding, or known to result in fraudulent activity on the part of the sender.

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