SMBs Beware: Spam Levels on the Rise

The fight against spam rages on after a spike in spam levels following the shutdown of hosting service McColo. SMBs are particularly vulnerable to malware and spam; ensuring secure, spam-free email should be a prominent security interest.

Earlier this month, the shutdown of hosting company McColo, which many reports identified as the leading spam producer, resulted in a precipitous drop in spam. Now it appears spammers have found a new home, and levels are again on the rise.
Symantec's MessageLabs believes McColo hosted 80 percent of the spam clogging in-boxes. After two weeks of a less congested Internet, spam levels are surging. The company attributes the gap to the period it took spammers to find new ISP and bandwidth providers.
McColo was disconnected from upstream provider Hurricane Electric due to the company's reputation as a haven for botnets. The revival of the botnet Srizbi helped push the spam level upward. The Srizbi botnet is thought to contribute nearly half the world's spam. MessageLabs says the resurgence of spam is already at 37 percent and is expected to climb higher.

Click here for more on the recent rise in spam levels.

E-mail and Internet content security firm Marshal released a report predicting the eventual spike in fresh spam. "The challenge for them is to re-establish connections with the thousands of zombie computers still infected with their bot code," Phil Hay, lead threat analyst with the Marshal TRACE team, said in a statement. "We fully expect spam will resume in large volumes eventually." Although Hay called the shutting down of McColo the "most significant single event" in the fight against spam, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) without large IT budgets or staff are particularly susceptible to malware and spamming.

MX Logic, a Denver based e-mail protection provider, conducted a survey of SMBs in 2006 that found the smaller the company, the more likely it was to be vulnerable to e-mail threats. Fortunately, there is a growing selection anti-virus and anti-spam technology available to SMBs.

  • Trend Micro offers SMB-specific InterScan firewalls and client/server messaging security.

  • U.K.-based Internet security company SmoothWall recently announced new UTM (unified threat management) hardware appliances targeted for midmarket companies.

  • On Nov. 28, Palo Alto Software incorporated additional features of the open-source offering SpamAssassin to provide improved filtering options for their Web-based email service, Email Center Pro.
  • Solinus provides SMBs with a service called MailFoundry, which focuses on hosted spam filtering at a low cost. For companies that need less than 10 mailboxes, MailFoundry will filter the company's spam for free.
  • Security giant McAfee offers an SMB-targeted "all-in-one-security-as-a-service" solution that scans, filters and cleans e-mail for spam, phishing and viruses.

No matter how many unscrupulous hosting services are shut down, spammers will always find a way to get back online-and in your mailbox. Marshal's Hay said the fight is likely to continue. "It is a clich??«, but the fight against spam is a game of cat and mouse. Over the longer term, the spammers will learn from this incident and probably evolve their botnet control systems," he said. "We have to work together to maintain the pressure on the key spam players."