December sees highest ever spam level in Ireland

2 Jan 2007

It might have been Christmas but spammers obviously didn’t take a holiday as levels of junk email in Ireland soared above 60pc for December.

According to data released by IE Internet, almost two thirds of all email received in this country (62.13pc) last month was spam. This is the highest level ever recorded in Ireland.

Figures for the final month of the year tend to be slightly skewed by the fact that many businesses are closed for the Christmas break, meaning that fewer legitimate emails are sent and viruses or spam therefore account for a higher percentage of the total. Even taking that into account, December’s figures show a worrying increase in levels of unwanted email — last year the corresponding figure was 38.93pc.

The leading source of spam, as ever, was the US but it represented a smaller portion of the total at 31.45pc. Next were China and South Korea with 27.5pc and 18.31pc respectively. Interestingly, just over one tenth of spam into this country came from a new name on the list, Hungary, with 10.48pc of the total. Turkey and Poland were other notable sources of junk email with 6.43pc and 5.83pc of the total respectively.

Meanwhile, the rate of virus infection during December rose to 13.21pc, up slightly from November (11.23pc) but down on December 2005’s level of 23.43pc.

According to a report from the US firm Commtouch, global spam levels increased 30pc.

Commtouch’s 2006 Spam Trends Report: Year of the Zombies is based on real-time analysis of more than two billion messages globally each week. It found that: zombies have spread to all geographies, reaching eight million hosts on a given day; spam level soared 30pc in 2006 compared with one year ago, due to extensive use of zombies; zombie activity accounts for 85pc of the spam circulating the internet; remotely controlled armies of zombies (botnets) can send up to one billion messages in just few hours; the global spam rate is 45pc-98pc, varying by target audience, with a global average of 87pc.

Colossal multi-wave image-spam outbreaks have brought spam bloat to 1.7 billion MB per day. Ebay and Paypal remain top targets for fraud, together accounting for 50pc of all phishing attempts.

“Spam outbreaks got bigger, faster and smarter during 2006,” pointed out Amir Lev, Commtouch president and CTO. “Innovative spammers quickly developed new techniques to bypass common anti-spam technologies and amassed huge zombie botnets. Outbreaks have become so fast, massive and sophisticated that most anti-spam solutions had great difficulty defending against them.”

Internet spammers in 2006 made use of globally distributed botnets of compromised zombie computers all over the world. Botnet armies containing as many as 200,000 zombies sprang up as they sought out weakly protected computers with fast internet connections, primarily home broadband users. Commtouch labs estimate that there are six to eight million zombie IP addresses active on any given day. Compromised zombie machines come in and out of circulation constantly; approximately 500,000 new PCs are captured into zombies botnets each day. A typical botnet can send 160 million spam emails in just two hours.

With the help of massive zombie armies the overall rate of spam sent globally across the internet reached 87pc at the end of 2006, up 30pc from this time last year. However, spam rates vary dramatically for different types of users and organisations, and even within organisations. Some small enterprises enjoy spam rates as low as 45pc. High-profile free email providers get pummeled with spam rates as high as 98pc. Typically, business email accounts receive a smaller percentage of spam than their consumer counterparts. However, business email increasingly became the target of spam last year, registering a 50pc increase year over year.

“People felt the flood of spam more intensively in 2006 since many anti-spam technologies have not been able to keep up with the spammers’ ever-growing bag of tricks,” Lev said. “As a result of seeing more spam in their inboxes, end users’ awareness of the spam problem is becoming increasingly acute, and they are demanding solutions that block the vast majority of spam with a minimum of false positives.”

After years of declining detection, traditional anti-spam methods such as content filtering, heuristics and IP blacklisting were finally overcome by sophisticated new spam techniques. Spammers easily out-maneuvered rudimentary IP blacklists with massively distributed botnets, and put enormous amounts of hijacked computing power at their fingertips. New techniques using images and randomisation helped messages slip by conventional anti-spam solutions. Image spam was particularly damaging in 2006 as its large files accounted for 70pc of spam bandwidth bulge, taxing networks heavily. This huge volume increase has prompted demand for on-session blocking services that can stop spam at the network perimeter before it wreaks havoc on costly internal IT resources, according to Commtouch.

By Gordon Smith