Fresh spam continues to stink up email inboxes

1 Sep 2004

Over one third of email traffic in Ireland during August was spam, the latest tracker figures from IE Internet have shown. The data has revealed a consistent and alarming upward trend in the amount of unsolicited commercial email now landing in Irish users’ inboxes.

August also saw the highest amount of viruses and worms recorded since IE Internet, a Dublin-based email and hosting provider, began publishing monthly figures last November. Just over 10pc of emails circulating among Irish small and medium-sized enterprises were infected with a virus, showing a slight rise from the July figures.

For the second month running, Zafi.B was the most prevalent virus although it was not as widespread in August as it had been in July. Variants of the Netsky worm are still around, the IE Internet data showed. According to Ken O’Driscoll, technical manager with IE Internet, the figures suggest that many users’ PCs are still open to being infected.

The continued presence of Netsky, which in fact exploits an old flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser, may actually be the reason why so many machines remain vulnerable. Part of Netsky’s payload is that it disables other worms and viruses such as Bagle and MyDoom. O’Driscoll pointed out that users would notice if their PC was infected with many different viruses and would be more likely to clean their machine. “If there was just one virus sending out copies of itself, the average user might not notice,” he said.

Even if users rid their PCs of existing viruses, they will continue to be at risk unless they install patches to fix any security holes that malware exploits, O’Driscoll warned. “At the moment we’re seeing old viruses. All it takes is for another popular virus to come around and we’ll see a dramatic increase in the figures.”

By weight of numbers alone, spam represents an even greater threat, as the monthly rate for August hit 34.85pc of Irish emails. Only December 2003 figures were higher, at 40.89pc. In percentage terms the rate of spam in Ireland has almost doubled in two months, having been recorded at 18.24pc in June.

As usual, the US remains the single biggest source of spam, but the number appearing to come from the UK has risen dramatically to 15.32pc from 5.81pc in July. “The UK will always pop up somewhere on the list because it’s a major communications hub, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen is to this extent,” O’Driscoll commented.

He pointed out that the US and the UK both have legislation outlawing spam but this doesn’t appear to have deterred bulk email senders.

By Gordon Smith