UK as zombie nation in doubt

Claims that the UK is the world’s top zombie nation have been cast in doubt with figures from Sophos showing that barely more than one per cent of global spam is relayed through it.

Last month Symantec said its figures showed 32 per cent of known bot-infected computers – known as zombies because they can be controlled by attackers – worldwide were located in the UK, followed by the US with 19 per cent.

However, Sophos reckons that although 60 per cent of the world’s spam is relayed through such botnets, its figures don’t tally with those of Symantec. It says that the most spam – some 26.35 per cent – is being relayed through compromised computers in the US. And the UK accounts for just 1.55 per cent fo relayed spam.

The reason for this is most likely the different strengths of the companies, with Sophos catering strictly for business use, while Symantec also has a massive consumer customer base as well.

One thing that both Sophos and Symantec agree on is that rapid broadband adoption brings with it a rise in spam relaying computers.

Sophos’s figures show the geographic landscape of spam relays can change quickly and dramatically. As countries react to the spam onslaught, bringing in legislation and giving the issue a higher profile the spammers seek out new territory.

The US may still lead the spam relay pack at 26.35 per cent, but this figure has crashed from the 41.5 per cent of a year ago. Canada too was responsible for relaying more than 7 per cent last year. Now that figure is 2.53 per cent.

The reverse is true of countries in Asia and, to some extent, our European neighbours. South Korea, China and Taiwan all showed a tremendous growth in their relayed spam ‘market share’. The former jumped from 11.63 per cent to 19.73 per cent, China leapt from 8.9 per cent to 15.7 per cent and Taiwan almost tripled from 0.86 per cent to 2.22 per cent.

In Europe France grew from 1.27 per cent and Spain from 1.04 per cent to 2.21 per cent.

‘Efforts such as ISPs sharing knowledge on how to crack down on spammers, and authorities enforcing the CAN-SPAM legislation, have helped North America tackle the spammers based on their doorsteps. Some of the most prolific spammers have been forced to either quit the business or relocate overseas as a result,’ said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. ‘The introduction of Windows XP SP2 a year ago, with its improved security, has also helped better defend home users from computer hijacking.’

Indeed, the problem of relayed spam is really just a symptom of a more worrying problem: that of the vast numbers of computers out there under the control of attackers. These botnets for hire are being used by spammers, but anyone with the money and the inclination can pay for their use – and that use could be far more sinister than annoying unwanted emails.

‘The worry now is that devious spammers will turn to other net-based money-making schemes, such as spyware and identity theft malware to make their dirty money,’ said Cluley. ‘There are fortunes to be made from the dark side of the Internet, and spammers who are finding it harder to sell goods via bulk email are likely to turn to other criminal activities.’

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