US takes title as top spam-relaying nation in Q2

Sophos has published a report on the top twelve spam-relaying countries over the second quarter of 2006.

Experts at SophosLabs scanned all spam messages received in the company’s global network of spam traps, and have revealed that for the first time in more than two years the U.S. has failed to make inroads into its spam-relaying problem. The U.S. remains stuck at the top of the chart and is the source of 23.2 percent of the world’s spam. Its closest rivals are China and South Korea, although both of these nations have managed to reduce their statistics since Q1 2006.

The vast majority of this spam is relayed by ‘zombies,’ also known as botnet computers, hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the control of hackers.

The top twelve spam-relaying countries from April to June 2006 were: U.S. 23.2 percent; China (& Hong Kong) 20 percent; South Korea 7.5 percent; France 5.2 percent; Spain 4.8 percent; Poland 3.6 percent; Brazil 3.1 percent; Italy 3 percent; Germany 2.5 percent; U.K. 1.8 percent; Taiwan 1.7 percent; Japan 1.6 percent; and Others 22 percent.

Sophos noted that spam is even being relayed from The Vatican and Antarctica.

Since the introduction of the CAN-SPAM legislation in 2004, there has been a regular quarter-on-quarter drop in the proportion of spam coming from the U.S. — until now. “It is difficult to criticize the U.S. for failing to take action, given the number of arrests and the huge fines for guilty spammers. The likely reality is that these statistics will not drop unless U.S. home users take action to secure their computers and put a halt to the zombie PC problem,” says Brett Myroff, CEO of master Sophos distributor, NetXactics.

Even though Russia does not feature in the dirty dozen of spam-relaying countries, Sophos has uncovered evidence that Russian spammers may be controlling vast networks of zombie PCs. Sophos recently discovered a Russian spamming price list, which showed that US$500 would purchase e-mail distribution to eleven million Russian e-mail addresses. On top of this, companies could buy distribution to one million addresses in any country they wanted for just $50.

One key development in 2006 so far has been the increase in spam containing embedded images, which has risen sharply from 18.2 percent in January to 35.9 percent in June. By using images instead of text, messages are able to avoid detection by some anti-spam filters that rely on the analysis of textual spam content.

Sophos estimates that 15 percent of all spam e-mails are now pump-and-dump scams, compared to just 0.8 percent in January 2005. These scams are e-mail campaigns designed to boost the value of a company’s stock in order for spammers to make a quick profit. Many of these spam messages contain images rather than traditional text.

“It is always a concern to see so many pump-and-dump e-mails, particularly as the people acting on these e-mails are not skilled investors. They do not realize that purchasing the shares will not reap any rewards, and benefits only the spammers, while creating a financial roller coaster for the organization in question,” says Myroff.

Sophos recommends that computer users ensure that they keep their security software up-to-date, as well as using a properly configured firewall and installing the latest operating system security patches. Businesses must also look to implement a best practice policy regarding e-mail account usage.

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