Analysis of the spam trends by security vendor Commtouch reveals a significant drop in global spam levels according to the Help Net Security. The article say that the average spam level for Q4 2010 was 83% down from 88% in Q3 2010. The beginning of December saw a low of nearly 74%. The New York Times also noted the decline in SPAM during Q4 2010. The NYT cites data from MessageLabs that global spam volumes dropped to about 30 billion messages a day from about 70 billion before Christmas. MessageLabs says the decline added to a downward trend under way since August, when spam peaked at some 200 billion spam messages a day, or 92.2 percent of all e-mail.
There are several theories why SPAM is drying up. One theory in the NYT article for why the botnets stopped spamming is that an important source of business may have dried up. September 2010 saw the Russians close down SpamIt, the organization allegedly behind much of the worlds pharmacy spam. Without SpamIt, “at least for now, there’s no content to fill the spamming cannons that Rustock has,” John Reid, of Spamhaus, a nonprofit group that tracks spammers, told the NYT.
Another theory put forward is that the botnet operators are intimidated. The NYT reports that in addition to going after SpamIt, Russian authorities recently arrested two spammers in Taganrog,in southern Russia, who had a database of nearly two billion United States and European Union e-mail addresses they had used to spread malicious programs, according to the HostExploit blog. “Even if the people were unrelated, the chilling effect of arrests can cause others to lay-low for a while,” Mr. Reid said, adding, “But all this is speculation.”
Matt Sergeant, senior anti-spam technologist at MessageLabs, a unit of the security-software maker Symantec (SYMC) wrote in a blog post, “Did the people in charge of these botnets suddenly go on vacation? Currently there are no explanations on why these botnets stopped spamming.”
Another theory could be that SPAMmers are changing tactics. The botnet operators appear to be shifting their focus to more lucrative social networking and mobile channels. Jamie Tomasello, Abuse Operations Manager at Cloudmark, told Help Net Security that these platforms allow SPAMmers to reach more responsive recipients compared with traditional email messages.
In a survey of Facebook users by F-Secure, the anti-malware firm, found that social networking spam is now a problem for three out of four Facebook users reported by ITNewsLink. F-Secure also found that 78 percent think spam is a problem on the site and 49 percent report they frequently see something in their newsfeed that they consider spam.
Ms. Tomasello explains that technically, a botnet can send any kind of content and so they are increasingly being used to send messages that spoof content from social networking sites. This works in a similar way to email phishing attacks, where a message would drive the recipient to a malicious payload, or to a website to capture the recipient’s social network credentials. The cybercriminal could then log in to the social networking site with the compromised credentials and send spam via the platform to the compromised recipient’s friends.
Cloudmark’s Tomasello says that these messages can be much more convincing than email spam messages because social networks, and the friends a user is connected with, are often well trusted. Once a cybercriminal has compromised credentials they will use them to try to gain access to other e-commerce, social network, email or bank accounts, because many internet users use the same username and password combination across multiple web sites.
Mobile devices are also seeing increased threats. Gareth Maclachlan, Chief Operating Officer of AdaptiveMobile, a mobile security firm told ITnewslink “With the increasing pervasiveness of Smartphone devices, 2010 has undoubtedly been the year that fraudsters have truly turned their attention to mobile platforms.” Mr. Maclachlan continues:
With Smartphone penetration reported to reach 37 per cent in Europe and 44 per cent in the US by 2012, we predict that the number of threats targeted at unsuspecting mobile users will continue to increase at an exponential rate throughout the course of 2011. Even more significantly, the nature of the threats we are seeing will increase in sophistication. … next year will see the emergence of the ‘compound threat’ – intelligent scams designed to exploit multiple phone capabilities in order to reap maximum reward for the criminals, before the user even realises they have become a victim.
My SPAM data tracks with what the big boys are saying. The average number of SPAM emails I receive has dropped to a near record low 12.3 SPAM messages per day in January 2011 from a high of 77.5 SPAM messages in May of 2009. The record low monthly average was 11.0 SPAM messages in May 2010. The number of SPAM messages I get on my Blackberry has been minimal, but the number of junk email’s I get even through LinkedIn has climbed.
What are you doing to prevent SPAM on mobile devices?
- Who Has Taken Over As the Most Prolific Botnet Since Rustock Was Taken Down? (circleid.com)
- Rustock repercussions: Spam down by a third, at least for now (arstechnica.com)
- Spam Drops 1/3 After Rustock Botnet Gets Crushed (it.slashdot.org)