The Spam Report, November 2008

An overview of the latest spam trends and online threats
The Spam Report, November 2008
By Vineetha Menon
Thu 06 Nov 2008 11:00 AM

It's all about the money. Cyber criminals are hoping to cash in by using the ongoing global economic downturn to trick unsuspecting web users.

Spam levels are averaging over 76% of all emails received worldwide, according to Symantec’s latest report. It reflects a yearly increase of 6% since October 2007, but it’s still lower than the astonishing 80% spam level identified in August this year.

This month, spam relating to internet and computer-related services accounted for 22% of the total spam identified globally. Product emails offering or marketing general goods and services, and financial spam related to money, the stock market or other monetary ‘opportunities’ both accounted for a significant 18% as well.

The state of the US and international economy has been making headlines recently. Former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, has even labeled the current credit crisis as “the worst in at least 50 years”. The recent economic bailout package and interest rate cuts have made spammers realize that this current trend represents a major opportunity for them.

As part of the economic aid package, the US Congress temporarily increased FDIC deposit insurance from $100,000 to $250,000 per depositor through December 31, 2009. With the increased public attention paid to the FDIC, a new spam attack was observed last month that purported to originate from the FDIC.

The spam message claimed that “funds wired into your account are stolen” and recipients were advised to check their account statement which is attached in the email. Unfortunately, any recipients that open the attachment are instantly exposed to malware.

Another related spam attack involves a message claiming to come from the US treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, suggesting that he has been instructed by the United Nations to “wire a sum of $1m into your Bank Account in a Legal way” and, in order to claim the money, the recipient is asked to provide personal details. The email also provides personal information about Paulson in a weak attempt to sound legitimate.

There has been an increase in ‘image spam’ linked to phishing involving financial institutions. Image spam is identified as an unsolicited message containing an image in the email body. This category of spam reached its peak in January 2008, accounting for 52% of all spam.

It reduced in September this year, averaging at just 2% of all spam. Recently, it jumped to 9%, which has been directly linked to an increase in phishing attacks that contain financial institution logos.

One of the main concerns of image spam is that it can put a strain on email infrastructure if not managed properly. Nearly 92% of image spam monitored in the last 30 days had an average size of between 5-50 KB.

With the global economy struggling to recover and find some stability, spammers are likely to ride this trend for some time to come.

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