Spam flood set to continue into ’07

4 Jan 2007

The volume of spam email coming into Ireland in 2006 rose by more than 30pc over the previous year and it looks likely to grow further in 2007, according to a new report.

IE Internet, which has been analysing spam and virus levels in Ireland for more than three years, has released its Annual Security Review. It showed that the average monthly rate of spam last year was 51.65pc, up from around 38pc in 2005 and 29pc in 2004.

The trend shows no signs of easing: last December saw the highest single monthly volume of spam of more than 60pc. In its report, IT Internet forecast that record levels will continue to be set on a regular basis into this year. “Spam is set to increase even more in 2007,” commented Ken O’Driscoll, chief technical officer with IE Internet. “Business email has to be managed and constantly reviewed in order to cope with the strain of spam. The threat from emerging spamming technologies means that the problem of spam is no longer a case of deleting a few emails.”

According to the report, the high levels of spam last year were due to several factors, including an increase in Dictionary Attacks and the use of Botnets, which are groups of remotely controlled PCs used to send spam without the owner’s knowledge.

In addition, there was a greater level of “pump and dump” spam, where the message urges the reader to buy cheap stocks with the promise of making easy money. In reality, the spammer who has already bought shares and then sells them at a profit. The report found that image-based spam emails were replacing the more traditional text format, as it’s harder to detect by anti-spam software. “Image-based spam also uses more bandwith than the average text email, thus impinging more on the email user,” the report noted.

Overall, virus rates rose during 2006. On average, 15.2pc of emails circulating in Ireland contained some form of malware. Unlike spam, with its record levels set as recently as last month, viruses were at their most prevalent as far back as May of last year. IE Internet noted that the data actually points to a gradual decrease in virus levels, with infection rates dropping from month to month.

For all that, the most widely circulated virus in 2006 was the very same as 2005, with the Netsky.P variant responsible for 16.4pc of all infected emails. Its share of the total was lower this time around: in 2005, Netsky.P accounted for a quarter of the total. This suggests that IE Internet’s thinking about a decrease may be correct.

“2006 saw the introduction of many more viruses and variants of existing viruses. Therefore, we see the statistics moving from reporting on a few big viruses to a situation where there are many smaller viruses and variants, each with an equal share of infection rate,” the report said.

Looking ahead, the report also forecast some IT security trends that are likely to emerge over the next 12 months. It said that the theft of IP addresses will become prevalent. This can occur when attackers exploit poorly configured routers, which would allow them to take over a range of IP addresses from which to send out spam. This range could potentially include the address of a legitimate company. If this were to happen, the innocent party would risk having their internet service disrupted if the IP range was blacklisted by anti-spam services.

Another prediction is that businesses will have to re-evaluate their security systems and policies as their network changes away from being for internal use to being one that staff can access from outside the office.

Lastly, IE Internet has forecast a growing demand for data retention this year, with phone and email logs being increasingly used by law enforcement and EU legislation in the pipeline. “There will be an increasing need within organisations to archive and record email communications. This will help to protect them from any liability issues that may arise,” the report said.

By Gordon Smith