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Attackers continue to phish for trouble and dish out spam

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Reports issued by international IT security service and technology vendors confirm a marked increase in specific security risks such as phishing and spam, writes Christo van Staden, director at Carrick Holdings. While the proliferation of digital lifestyle technology and new applications has contributed substantially towards the situation, human behaviour also has a key role to play.

Ultimately, up to 50% of spam and phishing attacks are initiated by people. In other words, at least half of these types of digital threats are reliant upon people to take place.
The level of activity and sophistication in attacks has prompted those operating within the IT security space to conduct investigations into international e-mail trends and related user behaviour.
As an example, international IT security technology and services provider, Symantec, recently engaged the global e-mail market via the Symantec Probe Network. The results were published in the March 2007 report.
At the time it was applied the Probe Network consisted of over two million decoy e-mail accounts that attracted e-mail messages from twenty different countries around the world.
The main objective of the network was to attract various e-mail threats from a base of around 600 entities around the world. This was considered representative of traffic to approximately 250 million mailboxes.
The vendor was also clear in its intention to differentiate between a phishing attempt and phishing message.
Among the results was the detection of 166 248 unique phishing messages, representing a six percent increase over the first half of 2006; the blocking of over 1,5-billion phishing messages and 27% fewer unique phishing messages on weekends than on weekdays, which accounted for an average of 961.
As far as spam is concerned, it is encouraging to note that specialists in the security arena believe users are more aware of the need to check unsolicited e-mail.
Experts point to a greater level of understanding amongst users to refrain from opening e-mail attachments. Security solution and service providers have also documented a decrease in PDF-spam. Analysts believe that part of the reason for this drop is because of the perceived lack of efficiency in this specific form of spam attack.
Further insight into market trends, revealed by the Probe Network, showed that spam made up 59% of all monitored e-mail traffic. It was interesting to note that 0,68% of all spam e-mail contained malicious code.
While the statistics and report made for interesting reading, it is a poignant reminder of the need to adopt a proactive approach to security and to keep abreast of the latest in IT security and technology trends.