Rate of spam found in Irish emails increases further

4 Aug 2004

Less than 9pc of emails circulating among Irish SMEs last month contained viruses but more than a quarter contained unsolicited spam. In particular, the spam statistics showed a marked increase over the previous month, new data from IE Internet has shown.

Although the rate of virus infection in July was 8.74pc, the lowest recorded in the past three months, it still represented an increase on the rate of 4.55pc in April. The most prevalent virus was Zafi.B (41.83pc), with variants of the Netsky worm found in the four remaining categories of the five published attackers.

Spam was found in 26.37pc of emails scanned by IE Internet; a considerable increase from the rate of 18.24pc recorded in June. Ken O’Driscoll, technical manager with IE Internet, said this was a “disturbing” development. “In real terms that translates into a loss of productivity,” he said.

O’Driscoll added that there was a correlation between incidences of spam and viruses, as many viruses are now creating ‘back doors’ on PCs that allows them to be used subsequently as relays for sending large volumes of email. “The rate of spam will go up in proportion to the amount of infected machines that are out there,” he said. “Educating people about protecting their PCs from viruses reduces the angle of attack for spammers,” he added.

The US remains the single greatest source of spam, accounting for more than 49.69pc of all unsolicited emails. O’Driscoll claimed that this showed anti-spam legislation had proved ineffective at curbing the problem. The presence of Korea in second place appears to be linked to the rollout of broadband in that country; these fast internet connections are often a target for spammers who can use unsecured computers as open relays to send large volumes of email unknown to their owners.

To produce its monthly statistics, IE Internet scans the characteristics of email that passes through its systems. It manages business email accounts for more than 8,000 individual users in Ireland. The company does not include data from large enterprise customers, in order to avoid the monthly figures being skewed by company accounts that vary widely from the average. For the same reason, it does not include mails to its own address as the volumes of spam would also be much higher than the norm.

In related news, new statistics from the security firm MessageLabs appeared to show that a massive 94.5pc out of 55 million business emails sent last month was spam. However O’Driscoll took issue with the findings because he claimed that including statistics from a small number of enterprise email accounts would give misleading figures because of the high volumes of email involved in those cases. “It’s not an average rate of spam,” he suggested. “It is plausible to say that maybe there is an organisation out there where 95pc of the email is spam, but basically they’re saying that the internet is unusable.”

By Gordon Smith