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Friday, July 28, 2006

U.S. Tops List of Global Spammers - 24% of global spam is from good ol' USA

According to this Yahoo news article , the US is still the top dog in the world cup of spamming. For your fantasy spam leagues, keep an eye out for those Chinese and South Koreans. Check out the less than encouraging news...

For the first time in over two years, the United States failed to reduce the amount of spam, placing it at the top of the list of spam-relaying countries, according to a report released by security firm Sophos. Spammers in the U.S. are responsible for 23.2 percent of spam received by Sophos' global network of spam traps, up from 23.1 percent in the first quarter of 2006.

China follows the U.S. in the number-two spot with 20 percent of global spam, while South Korea rounds out the top three with only 7.5 percent. Both these nations, Sophos said, have reduced the amount of spam originating from their countries since the security firm released their first quarter report. At that time, China was responsible for 21.9 percent of spam worldwide.

"Since the introduction of the CAN-SPAM legislation in 2004, we've seen a regular quarter-on-quarter drop in the proportion of spam coming from the U.S. -- until now, that is," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Spamming the Globe

The bulk of the world's spam is relayed by "zombies," or botnet computers, hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the control of hackers, Sophos reported. PC owners are generally not aware that their PCs are being used to send spam.

One of the tricks spammers use to disguise their activities and reduce their chances of having their "collar felt by the long arm of the law," according to Cluley, is to not use their own computers to send the spam. Instead, they relay their spam through innocent people's computers.

"So, for instance, spammers in Russia could exploit poorly protected home computers in America to send out their advertising messages," Cluley explained. "Aunt Hilda could be sending out adverts for performance-enhancing drugs without being aware of it."

Although Russia did not rank in the "dirty dozen" of spam-relaying countries, the Sophos report uncovered evidence that suggests Russian spammers may be controlling immense networks of "zombie" PCs. A recently discovered Russian spamming price list offered e-mail distribution to some 11 million Russian e-mail addresses for just $500, or distribution to one million addresses in any country for a paltry $50.

Images, Stocks and Home Users

The report also found that spammers are using increasingly sophisticated techniques to outwit anti-spam filters and bilk the unwary out of their money. One key development in 2006 has been the increase in spam containing images up from 18.2 percent in January to 35.9 percent in June. Using images rather than text, spammers are able to avoid detection by anti-spam filters that rely on the analysis of textual spam content.

So-called pump-and-dump e-mail scams are also on the rise. Sophos estimated that 15 percent of all spam e-mails fall into that category, compared with only 0.8 percent in January 2005. The sham e-mails are designed to pump up the value of a company's stock so that spammers can make a quick profit. Many of these spam scams also use images in their messages.

"It's incredible what people will believe when they receive it in a nicely formatted e-mail, which they would never believe if some nutter came up to them at the mall," Cluley said. "In one example, a recent stock spam campaign saw the share price rise over 500 percent as a result."

Although eliminating spam is not likely, companies and individuals can dramatically reduce the amount of spam they receive by properly protecting themselves and following best practices to minimize exposure. Home users need to properly protect their computers with up-to-date security patches, firewalls and anti-virus software to make sure that "unlike Aunt Hilda" they are not helping the spammers by having a computer that is easy for them to exploit, Graham advised.

"Given the number of arrests, and the huge fines dished out to guilty spammers, it's hard to criticize the U.S. for failing to take action," Cluley said. "Perhaps the reality is that the statistics can't be reduced further unless U.S. home users take action to secure their computers and put a halt to the zombie PC problem."


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