Just years after Bill Gates predicted spam would be eradicated, it remains a major problem for computer users as spammers veer away from traditional techniques and get creative – with no end in sight.
This is one of the conclusions drawn from Sophos's report on the latest trends in spam, which reveals the top 12 spam-relaying countries for the final quarter of 2008.
In addition, more spam is malicious and often designed to infect users' computers via sophisticated malware attachments or a link to malicious or infected websites, in order to steal sensitive information.
"The threat remains alive and kicking despite increased legal action against spammers, the occasional takedown of internet companies which assist the cybercriminals, and constantly improving anti-spam software," says Brett Myroff, CEO of regional Sophos distributor, Sophos South Africa. "Although the latest stats show that the proportion of spam relayed per country may have decreased year-on-year, spammers have turned to more creative and devious methods to ensure their messages reach as many unsuspecting computer users as possible."
Cybercriminals have shown an increased attraction to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter during this last quarter, indicating that spammers are successfully adapting their methods to suit the current environment. These sites have become part of many computer users' daily routine.
"Cybercriminals have cottoned onto the fact that social networking users can be more easily fooled into clicking on a link that appears to have come from a trusted Facebook friend, than if it arrived as an unsolicited email in their inbox," says Myroff. The notorious Nigerian 419 scammers, for example, have evolved, masquerading as Facebook friends in order to trick unwary users into parting with valuable sensitive and financial information.
"Ultimately while users are still falling for these scams, the fraudsters will continue. And while the authorities are making great progress, everyone must take steps to ensure they don't fall victim."
Between October and December 2008, the US relayed most of the world's unwanted e-mails. China has leapt back into second place, relaying a larger proportion of spam than it did in 2004, and Russia retains third position. In contrast, other nations like Canada, Japan and France – serial offenders five years ago – appear to have made progress and are no longer present in the list of spam reprobates.
"Although there's no denying that some countries have significantly reduced their contribution to the spam epidemic over the past five years, the US still holds the crown," Myroff says. "Though its spam contribution has significantly decreased since Bill Gates's proclamation – falling from almost half of all spam relayed at the end of 2004, to 21.3% by the end of 2007, and now resting at 19.8% – this shows there's certainly no quick fix."
Sophos identified the top twelve countries responsible for relaying spam across the globe between October-December 2008: US – 19.8%; China (incl HK) – 9.9%; Russia – 6.4%; Brazil – 6.3%; Turkey – 4.4%; South Korea – 4.1%; India – 3.6%; Italy – 3%; Spain – 2.9%; UK – 2.7%; Germany – 2.4%; Argentina – 2.1%; Other – 32.4%.