Love is a many splendored social engineering tool and spammers are busy sending out a whole lot of their particular brand of love across the electronic universe.
An interesting blog post (Love Hurts) by Kevin Haley at Symantec points out that malicious code writers are busy spreading their work in attachments hidden in the millions of spam messages being spewed out by zombies (compromised computers). If you click on one of these attachments — and your machine isn't bulletproof — it also can become a zombie and used as part of a botnet to send out more spam. Botnets are groups of compromised computers used to form a super computer. Of course, downloading malware can also mean that all your personal and financial information will be stolen, too. Please note (as you will see below) that some forms of malware currently being sent out can do both.
Kevin's blog post came out at almost the same time Symantec issued it's monthly Spam Landscape Report. With Valentine's Day coming up, love is a predictable lure and it's probably a good idea to make sure you know who loves you before clicking on any links in an e-mail.
Another predictable finding in the report is that spam levels are continuing to rise to normal levels after they fell when McColo was shut-down. McColo (a Web service hosting provider) was shut down in November after it was discovered they were the source of a large number of botnets, which are used to send out spam. Last month, 79 percent of all e-mail was spam. The report also notes that the point of origin for spam is shifting a little. Although the United States is still number one, the number of active zombies in other countries is rising. While some of this is being attributed to McColo, the report points out that this might point to the fact that some of these countries have an increasing number of users accessing the Internet.
From a spam-commerce point of view, the report indicates weight loss products, counterfeit drugs, cheap watches and porn top the list of items available at super-cheap prices as Valentine's Day approaches.
Besides Valentine's Day, President Obama also continues to be used as a spam lure, according to the report. A lot of this spam contains malware with files names such as usa.exe, obamanew.exe, statement.exe, barackblog.exe and barackspeech.exe. The malware being spread in these spam e-mails is called the W32.Waledac, which is capable of both stealing sensitive personal and financial information and turning a machine into a zombie. It also establishes a backdoor to a machine so it can be remotely accessed.
Current events (and holidays) have been and probably will continue to be used as social engineering lures to snare the unwary.
Also noted was a rise in Russian spam hawking goods and services. With cheap long distance services using VoIP, the Russians have actually set up telephone numbers for their intended victims to call. My guess is that they will entice someone to send money, which can't be recovered when the person sending it discovers they've been scammed.
Chinese gambling spam is also mentioned as a new phenomenon in the report. It appears to be patterned after English language gambling spam, but is written in Chinese.
Last, but not least, Nigerian spam is mentioned. Nigerian or 419 spam is named after the section of the Nigerian penal code dealing with fraud. It normally is a come-on for lost riches or winning a lottery and has a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. Typically known as advance fee fraud, the victim is enticed in sending money across a border (wire transfer is preferred) to secure their fortune. Of course in the end, the victim never receives anything and is often left in financial ruin.
There are many twists to advance fee and one of them is to send a bogus financial instrument to a person with instructions to cash it. If the person doesn't get arrested for presenting it, they are instructed to send the money back to the scammer. Of course, the cashing institution eventually figures out the instrument is bogus and the victim is held liable for it.
A lot of people think that advance fee all comes from Nigeria, which isn't true. I've personally traced it to a lot of other places and called some of the telephone numbers. The person answering didn't sound Nigerian and I've spoken to a few people from Nigeria in my time. Naturally, this doesn't mean that scam activity is not coming from Nigeria and just that not all of it does.
Pam Dixon, of the World Privacy Forum, went on record recently that the spelling and grammatical errors aren't being seen as much in advance fee lures anymore. Obviously, advance fee scammers, wherever they hail from, are being more careful and have discovered spell check?
To close, the Anti-Phishing Working Group's recent report on phishing, which is delivered via spam, has noted that the number of crimeware-spreading URLs out there has increased 258 percent versus the same time period last year. It also noted a record high in the amount of hijacked and victimized brand names. Last but not least, it noted another record in the amount of malicious application variants being seen in the wild (on the Internet).
This would suggest that spam is getting more dangerous and the people sending it are becoming more sophisticated. The smartest thing to do with all spam is to delete it. Making sure your computer's security is updated with a known and reliable vendor is also a smart thing to do. After all, as I've speculated many times before, most fraud, phishing and financial misdeeds on the Internet start with spam.