Saturday, March 08, 2008

Symantec releases March Spam and Scam Trends

Even though scams don't all originate on the Internet, a great majority of them do. If you ever want to figure out what scams are making their rounds, taking a look at spam analysis is a pretty good way of doing it.

Spam is the vehicle that most cyber misfits seem to prefer when trying to pull a fast one on the unwary. Fortunately, most of them are far from geniuses and all it takes is a little awareness to foil their attempts at trickery.

Of course, providing a little body armor for your system is highly recommended, also. Especially, if you are a Windows user.

Please note that when providing body armor for your system to make sure you are buying it from a reliable vendor. I see spam come-ons for so-called computer security software that might turn your system into a spam spewing zombie, steal all the information from it, or a combination of both.

Last week, Symantec released their March report. This report is a good resource to use to see what is going on in the wild world of spam, scams and malicious software.

Kelly Conley writes:

Social engineering was the driving force behind spammers during the month of February. While overall spam volume hovered steadily at 78.5% of email and tactics remained relatively the same, the use of events, big brands, and public figures drove spam campaigns during the month. The March State of Spam report highlights several of these.

Kelly brings up another point -- which is that despite the fact that scams frequently use technology as a tool -- they also rely on a healthy a dose of social engineering (trickery) to accomplish their intentional misdeed.

Predictably, the presidential candidates are a big lure:

Last month, spammers began to spread bogus links purporting to show a Hillary Clinton speech, but in actuality the links were cloaking a malicious Trojan. Most recently we’ve seen spammers leveraging the last remaining front-runners of the 2008 presidential elections; Obama, McCain, and Huckabee. Just what are spammers linking the candidates with? Everything from Viagra, porn, get-rich-quick schemes, and portable dewrinkle machines.

If you think about it, this shouldn't surprise very many of us. After all, the candidates are filling up our mailboxes with a lot of political spin and requests for financial support, also.

It's probably a good idea to be careful when clicking on a link in any unsolicited messages. Especially, when over 75 percent of all e-mail sent is spam.

Of course, politicians aren't the only human lures spammers use. Celebrities are pretty good "spam fodder," also.

The presidential candidates aren’t the only targets. Also seen were high profile names such as Michael Jackson, Heather Mills, and Indiana Jones to name a few. Spammers are using these names to spread malicious links to videos and the names being circulated are all currently high profile. Who hasn’t heard of the McCartney/Mills divorce or Britney Spears’ woes? The spammer is banking that you want to know more about these celebrities and are therefore leveraging their names to tempt you into opening the malicious link. These are fairly easy to spot because in most cases the names are misspelled. I wonder what Paul McCartney would think of his name more closely resembling a martini (Maccartni)?
It never ceases to amaze me that spammers can't spell. A common demoninator in most scam letters is that a lot of words are misspelled. Especially, the variety that orginate out of Internet cafes in third world countries.

Other notable trends in the lures being used are International Women's Day and (too good to be true) offers of free tickets from Southwest Airlines.

The monthly reports normally includes an amusing, or not so amusing (reader's choice) "hall of shame" category. This month the mortgage crisis is being used, with a sick twist:

As economic conditions have slowed in recent months, Symantec has observed a torrent of spam messages encouraging users to “refinance before its too late,” ”take out a mortgage for the lowest APR ever,” or “this is the time to be the proud owner of your house.” While the deluge of finance spam continues, spammers have also decided to diversify their sales portfolio to include the buying and selling of burial plots. Talk about an idea to get out from being buried, no pun intended. As the message indicates, the U.S. national average price for a burial plot in 1978 was $200 and this has risen to $4500 in 2008. “Get started today” – adverts say – “because tomorrow could be too late”.
In case you missed the link to the full report (above), it can be seen (with some interesting screenshots), here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Fine Wine and Identity Theft?

What do fine wine and identity theft have in common? According to the FTC's top cities for identity theft, the answer is Napa, California.

Christopher Null blogged about this on Yahoo:

While you're sipping Chardonnay and enjoying the beauty of the wine country, crooks may be busy swiping your identity. According to a Federal Trade Commission study, Napa, California, earned the title of worst town for identity theft, with over 300 consumer complaints per 100,000 residents in 2007.

Madera, California, (280 complaints per 100,000 residents) and Greeley, Colorado, (228 complaints) followed Napa on the list. On a state level, California (120 complaints) was surpassed by only Arizona, which had the worst per-capita trouble with identity theft (137 complaints).
I decided to go to a more local Northern California source and found that Channel 10 News out of Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto covered the story, also.

Cornell Barnard (News 10) reports:

Stockton ranks number 21 out of 50 on the Federal Trade Commission's list of the worst cities for identity theft complaints.

Stockton Police can't pinpoint why their city ranks so high, but the valley's trade take part of the blame, a constant hunger for cash.

"It's all connected. It's a brutal crime for those victimized," said Stockton Police spokesman Pete Smith.In addition to Stockton, Northern California is well-represented on the FTC list. Napa tops the list of U.S. metropolitan areas for identity theft consumer complaints, logging over 302 complaints for every 100,000 residents during 2007. Nearbly Vallejo and Fairfield rank sixth while the Yuba City area comes in 11th.
Interestingly enough, Vallejo and Fairfield are just over the hill from Napa and one of the entry points for the San Francisco Bay area. Yuba City is roughly just North of the Napa Valley. These cities aren't very far from Stockton, either.

Maybe this means, there is a higher incidence of Identity Theft in Northern California? Napa might be the worst because it is an affluent area and the better a person's credit is -- the more lucrative their identity is to a criminal.

Being a fifth generation, or so Northern California type (a lot of this blog is written from there), I'd like to point out that Northern California also hosts a lot of information to combat the identity theft problem. In fact, some of the best resources to protect and educate people originate from the area.

Sacramento, which didn't make the list is the State Capital. The Office of Privacy Protection is one of the better written information sources to educate people about the problem of identity theft. Please note the information on this site is available in English, Espanol and Chinese.

For the more frugal, this page contains all the information needed to protect a person without paying for one of those services with an alleged $1 million guarantee.

Interestingly enough, the State of California is also known as being pretty proactive when it comes to protecting the rights of victims. Many of the privacy laws enacted in California have had a worldwide impact.

A great place to read more about the problem is a document outlining Governor Schwarzenegger's 2005 Identity Theft Summit. This document includes a lot of perspective from privacy groups, law enforcement and business groups on the problem.

Last, but not least, a University of Berkeley professor, Chris Hoofnagle just issued an interesting paper based off information culled from the FTC about which financial institutions are most prone to making their customers a victim of identity theft. Professor Hoofnagle openly admits that the results might be jaded because they are only from a consumer complaint point of view and that most financial institutions seem to prefer not to release these statistics.

If your a more "visual type," Cornell Barnard's newscast on this story can be seen, here.

If you are one of those more "scholarly types," the full FTC report on this can be viewed, here.