RealTime IT News

AOL: Spam Down, Sophisticated Methods Up

Spam purveyors are using increasingly sophisticated methods to prey on e-mail users, according to AOL's third annual Top 10 Spam messages list.

According to the Dulles, Va.-based AOL, its 2005 analysis of hundreds of billions of attempted spam messages targeting its global e-mail customers finds that spammers are using more "special-order" style subject lines.

Instead of generic pitches for products, "special-order spam" attempts trick consumers by pretending to be from a friend or part of a legitimate, customer-driven transaction.

Six in 10 of the top subject lines this year fall into this category, compared with just two in 2004 and none in 2003.

For example, this year's Top 10 spam list features "Your Mortgage Application is Ready"; another claims to have sent "you to the wrong site"; and others simply say "Thank you" or "Re:" as if they are responding to the recipient.

"Spammers have been on a year-long mission to mislead and deceive in 2005," Charles Stiles, AOL's Postmaster, said in a statement.

Stiles said while the volume of spam reaching AOL e-mail inboxes has remained at low levels compared to its height in late 2003, the spam that's out there is "more insidious, crafty, devious, and dangerous than ever."

In 2005, AOL blocked an average of 1.5 billion spam messages each day from reaching the e-mail boxes of the AOL Network. The total number of spam e-mails blocked by AOL in 2005 reached over a half trillion (556 billion) -- a slight increase over 2004.

The percentage of total e-mail that AOL blocks as spam at the gateway reached 80 percent in 2005.

"What we're seeing is that spammers are far more organized and professional than ever before," Stiles said.

"They are going after Mainstreet USA with 'back alley' tactics, and they are doing it with a specialized team that's working overtime to hide the source of their spam by employing zombie PCs, bot-nets and using other nefarious tactics."

Stiles added that spam gangs have turned into a "tightly knit, controlled, Web-based spam mafia coordinating sustained attacks on netizens in 2005."