Friday, January 09, 2009

Spam Levels on the Rise, Again

With the shutdown of McColo by Internet Service Providers in November, global spam volumes dropped over 50 percent. Sadly, this appears to have been a short-term fix. According to a new Symantec report, the spammers have moved to new locations and the volumes are back up to 80 percent of pre-McColo levels.

While spam originates from a lot of places, the United States is still in the number one spot, with 27 percent of the spam observed originating from there. China and Brazil tied for second place with 7 percent of spam originating from these countries.

The report indicates that URLs in Canadian Pharmacy spam messages were noted as being top-level Chinese domains (.cn TLD). Could this mean that Chinese knock-off (counterfeit) prescriptions are trying to make it appear as if they are coming from Canada? Given the recent concerns of tainted and poisonous merchandise being exported from China, this might be a concern. Of course, I would think that buying prescription meds over the Internet should be a concern to most people, anyway.

In another variation of recently observed spam, a user is invited to join a social networking site. The link goes to a real group, which was created on the social networking site by the spammer. The group then links to a free blogging site, which redirects the victim to the ultimate destination URL. At the destination URL, personal information is requested, which is probably used to sell to marketing companies or used in other spam campaigns. Please note, although not mentioned in the report, that some of these campaigns might have malicious intent or be scams.

Also noted during the holiday season was a lot of e-Card spam. This spam sometimes comes with malware (malicious software) designed to steal personal and financial information or turn your machine in to a spam spewing zombie computer using your credentials.

A partcularly deceptive spam delivery method noted recently is spammers inserting their messages into legitimate newsletters. This method seems to get past spam filters pretty effectively. If the recipient clicks on the message, they are taken to a spammer site. Here again, it might be a site selling junk, but also could be a site with more malicious intent.

Another spam trend in vogue these days is to use the recession as a social engineering lure designed to get people to click on a spam link. Messages are being sent out in the millions touting easy bail-out money to be had and an assortment of the normal get-rich- quick schemes. If it's too good to be true and doesn't make sense, it's normally a scam, and I suspect that most of this type of spam is one.

Last but not least, the spammers are still using President-elect Barack Obama's name to market coin offers, a "Barackumentary DVD" and a free Visa card for helping the Obama clan pick their dog.

Shutting down McColo by reaching out to the ISPs — which was done largely through the work of Brian Krebs at Security Fix (Washington Post) -- showed that a significant impact can be made on spam when ISPs are held accountable. Given that Brian is one person and a journalist, this was an admirable piece of work. The fact that spam is approaching pre-McColo levels tells us that there are more ISPs that need to be held accountable. Maybe in the end, government and international agencies need to follow Brian's example and and make an impact on spam levels that will last a little longer.

Spam is a dangerous pain for everyone who uses e-mail. Most scams, questionable goods and services and cyber-attacks using malicious software start with a spam e-mail. Shutting down the spam operators can only make everyone's experience on the Internet a little more safe and sane.

1 comment:

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