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Give the spammers an A for creativity but a D-minus for execution on this new one. This week saw the first outbreak of MP3-based spam. Having tried a variety of other means, including PDF spam, they have a new way of shilling their pump-and-dump stocks: your speakers.
A number of security firms, which constantly monitor the Internet for new threats, noticed on the evening of October 17 that a new wave of spam was floating about with an MP3 file attached. The file, though, was small, only 100 kilobytes in size. A typical MP3 is three to four megabytes in size.
The files were named after a variety of artists, ranging from Elvis Presley to Fergie to Carrie Underwood. But it wasn't the King, the Duchess or the American Idol. Instead, it was a female voice with a British accent speaking in a dead, monotone voice and processed with a voice effect, making the speaker sound more like one of the Borg from Star Trek than an effective pitch person.
"It sounds pretty scary, actually," joked Dave Mayer, a product manager for IronPort, maker of spam filtering hardware. "I think these guys need to take some marketing classes and get a speaker who is a little more believable. I don't think I'd buy anything from that voice."
Adding to the creepy factor is that the MP3 is recorded in very poor quality. It uses a 16 kbps bitrate and 11 KHz sample rate. Most MP3s use at least a 160 kbps bitrate and 44.1 kHz sample rate.
The voice droned on about purchasing shares in Exit Only Inc., a firm listed on the pink sheets for small capitalization companies. It runs Text4Cars.com, a site for buying and selling cars and trucks in Canada.
Mayer said IronPort saw the spam coming because it had been monitoring known IP addresses that had been infected with the Storm virus, which is used to pump out spam. In this case, the spam wasn't sent out in a large volume. IronPort only saw about 10 to 20 an hour, a drop in the bucket when you see 100 million a day.
It was notable only because it was the first time someone used an audio file to distribute spam, he said. Lately, spammers have used images, PDFs, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel file attachments.
"What it shows to me is spammers are getting more and more sophisticated about how they send spam," he said. "First they used text, then they used image spam to evade the filters. In the last five years, we saw two different types of spam. In the last 4 months, we've seen four or five. It's almost like the Moore's Law of Spam. These guys will double their techniques every year and a half."