Spam threat rises as Christmas nears

Spam is reaching record levels in the run up to Christmas, report security firms.

According to the latest figures from web security provider IronPort Systems, the figure has doubled month on month, with October showing 61 billion spam messages a day in circulation.

The company expects this to increase further in December to average 78 billion a day.

Managed security provider MessageLabs also recorded high spam levels for November, charting levels average 74 per cent of all mail, the highest since early 2005. However, its front line defences knock out large volumes of common-or-garden spam before it even hits the company’s filters and other antispam technology. If this ‘absolutely known’ spam were included, spam ratios would hit 89 per cent, claims the company.

The largest rise in spam was in Belgium with a rise of 6.9 per cent, followed by Switzerland (0.9 per cent) and Germany (0.1 per cent), says MessageLabs.

Top targets for spam are Education and Manufacturing, although there appears to be vigorous growth in spam targeting the Accommodation and Catering sector.

Additionally, it seems small businesses are bearing the brunt of the spam onslaught, which receive almost twice as many spam messages as medium sized companies and 60 percent more virus traffic than large enterprise organizations. This may be because they are the business sector least likely to have dedicated IT staff and resources to adequately protect against such threats.

‘The cyber criminals are out in full force and utilizing the holiday season to their advantage. Whether it’s targeting smaller businesses that don’t have the IT expertise or resource to fully protect themselves from new threats, or consumers dropping their guard in exchange for retail therapy, the bad guys have an over-abundance of opportunities to target,’ said Mark Sunner, chief technology officer, MessageLabs.

Not only are volumes rising, but spammers are employing new tactics to get past the spam filters and boost the open-rate.

IronPort claims image spam accounted for a quarter of all spam in October this year, up 421 per cent year on year. Much of the image spam seen recently have been based around dodgy stock tips for pump and dump scams, with computers infected by one of the myriad Warezov variants being used to spam it out.

Matt Peachey, director Northern Europe, IronPort Systems told us: ‘Rather than sending text based emails, many criminal gangs now use images of text and pictures which are embedded into the body of the email. These are virtually unrecognisable by tradition filtering spam blocking software as these rely upon keyword or sequence identification.

‘Blended threats are on the increase. Many people have become aware of the traditional spam techniques and ignore them (although 1 in 10,000 still responded to spam – this is pretty much the response rate spam gangs work on. And when you can send out millions per hour it really not an issue). Blended threats are about the growth of Spyware, Malware and Adware. These are simply about extortion in some form and are delivered through an email, but more often these days a recipient is directed to a website by an infected link. As you are directed to the site the Crimeware is being downloaded to your PC.’

For more information, visit the IronPort or MessageLabs websites.

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