Spam up, viruses down in latest monthly research

1 Aug 2006

Computer virus levels dropped slightly but spam rates rose again in Ireland during July, according to tracker data released today by IE Internet.

The 13.9pc rate of virus infection for July shows a two-monthly drop, as levels were also down to 16.05pc in June. To put this in perspective, however, May’s rate was the highest of the year at just over 20pc and in the same month a year ago, levels were less than 10pc.

Just two strains were responsible for more than half of all infected emails between them last month. Mytob.OF was the most prevalent virus with 30.7pc of the total and Netsky.P was the second most common with 26.65pc. The latter is no stranger to the list, having first been discovered more than two years ago. The Mytob variant is a more recent arrival, having first appeared in June with 13.40pc.

Ken O’Driscoll, chief technical officer with IE Internet, said that many of the commonly found viruses still use social engineering tactics to try and trick people into opening the email attachments that launch the infections. This could be a reference to a topical event that could cause a curious person to click on the attachment. “A lot of them allow remote access by a third party to the user’s computer,” he added. “Mytob.OF is pretty nasty.”

O’Driscoll suggested that computer upgrades may be responsible for the drop in virus numbers, as consumers replace older, less secure PCs with computers that have anti-virus software built in. “What we’ll hopefully start seeing is viruses going down as more and more people buy new machines,” he said.

Spam crawled back above the 50pc mark in July, meaning that half of all emails circulating in Ireland during the month were junk. There was a slight rise over June levels of 48.36pc. Bucking a trend that has been developing for some time, the US’ influence on the senders list actually rose last month. Although it is still the leading source of spam by some distance, at 33.95pc it accounted for just over a third of all junk email. A year ago, more than half of the spam coming into Ireland was sent from there.

Explaining why the sources of junk email are more widely spread, O’Driscoll suggested: “A lot of it is down to the fact that spammers are sending this through distributed botnets.” These are groups of compromised computers that can be controlled by a third party, unknown to the original user. “Spammers are becoming much more technically savvy,” he added. “They used to spend a few hundred dollars on disposable dial-up accounts at a small ISP; these days it’s very different.”

By Gordon Smith