Is Spam Really Slipping?

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2008-11-12 Print this article Print

Add MX Logic to the growing list of messaging security specialists charting a noticeable downturn in the overall level of spam e-mail that they're processing via their customers' networks each month.

Following several other similar reports that have pinpointed minor downturns in the sheer volume of unsolicited e-mail finding its way into people's in-boxes, at least one of which was connected to the shuttering of a notoriously unsavory ISP, the security vendor's latest research concludes that spam levels have indeed dipped, at least momentarily.

Nonetheless, MX Logic reports that spam still accounted for a whopping 89.8 percent of all e-mail traffic during October 2008. That's a noticeable 5 percent reduction from the previous month, when it represented 90.5 of all messages, however.

Among the most prevalent spam tactics being employed during the month of Oct. was the tried-and-true bogus e-card platform, much of which was pitched around Halloween-related themes.

Fake overnight shipping bills were particularly strong during the first half of the month, but the scheme took a dramatic downturn during the latter two weeks of Oct. Many of those campaigns included malware-infecting links or attachments, the company reported.

"Even though these were virtually gone by mid-October, their overall volume was significant enough to rank them as large contributor to the e-mail borne malware tactics for the month," MX Logic researchers said in a report summary.

The top five most popular spam verticals were messages related to topics of health, one-time consumer offers, phishing, foreign languages, and gambling, according to the report.

Among the malware attacks affiliated with the involved spam campaigns, Trojan threats occupied four of the top five spots for the month, MX Logic said.

The U.S. remained the leading source of unsolicited e-mail during Oct., followed by Spain, Brazil, the U.K. and Germany.

The researchers concluded that campaigns offering pills remained the most prevalent form of pharmaceutical-related campaign, but the company noted a shift in the makeup of many of the spam runs, with text-based e-mails linking to Canadian Pharmacy sites giving way to image-based spam with ad content hosted on third party web servers and images downloaded remotely via HTML.

Some of the e-mails have also sought to lure users into taking the bait by incorporating subject lines alluding to the ongoing economic upheaval, according to the report.

Among malware-bearing spam, a run offering lewd videos of film star Angelina Jolie was the big splash during Oct. Many of the infections being handed down via the campaign hooked affected machines into zombie networks, MX Logic said.

Looking into November and December, the researchers predicted a healthy serving of holiday-themed spam, in what has become the heaviest dose of unwanted e-mail and messaging-borne malware threats to surface each year.

In 2007, MX Logic estimated that spam levels would grow by 50 percent during the final two months of the year, and that was the case, the firm contends.

However, 2008 may not see as dramatic of an upturn, though there should still be plenty of well-cooked holiday spam, said the researchers.

"Spam levels haven't followed their traditional patterns in 2008, remaining relatively flat and even lower compared to previous years," the experts said. "While the reason for this overall decline is unknown, some point to the recent news about the various spammer arrests and spam network shutdowns. Whatever the reason, spam remains too lucrative to assume that this trend will continue through the holidays."

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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