The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, November 2003

The spam volume that was lost in October has been found in November. According to measurements from Brightmail’s Probe Network, spam has hit the 56 percent mark — an increase of 16 percent over the previous year when only 40 percent of e-mail was classified as spam.

Brightmail categorized the largest volume of spam to be product-related, while spiritual messages accounted for the smallest portion. The newest category, political spam, has dropped to 3 percent, after peaking at nearly 4 percent in October.

November 2003 Spam Category
Type of Spam Volume
Products 22%
Financial 17%
Adult 16%
Scams 13%
Other 8%
Health 7%
Leisure 6%
Internet 6%
Political 3%
Spiritual 2%
Source: Brightmail’s Probe Network

The growing spam problem is generating some extreme solutions. According to a survey of 500 small businesses conducted for Symantec by InsightExpress, 42 percent of respondents indicated that they would consider abandoning e-mail for business correspondence if the spam situation worsened, and 55 percent reportedly would consider changing their company e-mail addresses to stop spam. Moreover, 56 percent would consider locking down their e-mail server to allow only approved messages, which would also force all users who wanted to correspond with the company via e-mail to go through an approval process first, and 32 percent of already invest the time and resources to help curb spam by submitting spam e-mail addresses to blacklist companies.

These drastic actions were prompted by the noticeable increase in spam, which 55 percent indicated is draining productivity, 61 percent said was distracting, and 63 percent complained was offensive. More than half (54 percent) reported that spam imposed business costs in the form of user productivity, followed by server and disk storage space (37 percent), and connection time (35 percent).

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents reported an increase in spam over the past six months, with 33 percent noting dramatic increases. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said that spam made up more than half of the e-mail coming into their businesses.

More than one-quarter (28 percent) of respondents complained that spam contains malicious code, while 23 percent said spam is connected to credit card fraud, and 16 percent reported that it is linked to software piracy.

Steven Sundermeier, vice president of products and services at Central Command, Inc., assessed the month’s virus and malicious threats, finding that the Worm/MiMail family occupied half of the positions on the company’s monthly “Dirty Dozen” list, accounting for 27.2 percent of all confirmed virus occurrences.

“Despite Worm/Gibe.C topping the chart, the Worm/MiMail family dominated the list,” said Sundermeier. “As is the case with Worm/MiMail.I and Worm/MiMail.J, we are beginning to see the emerging pattern of writing computer viruses for financial gain. This increasing trend can have a serious effect on users, beyond the normal risk of computer corruption, by destroying their livelihood. Confidential information such as credit card and bank account information is regularly sought.”

November 2003 Dirty
Rank Virus Percentage
1. Worm/Gibe.C 19.2%
2. Worm/Sober 18.6%
3. Worm/Klez.E 7.7%
4. Worm/MiMail.G 7.0%
5. Worm/MiMail.C 6.4%
6. Worm/Hawawi.G 4.7%
7. Worm/MiMail.I 4.5%
8. Worm/MiMail.J 3.9%
9. Worm/MiMail.H 3.8%
10. Worm/Bugbear.B 2.4%
11. Worm/Nachi.A 1.8%
12. Worm/MiMail.A 1.6%
  Others 18.4%
Note: The table above represents the most
viruses for November 2003, number one being the
most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

November security research from mi2g indicates that Europe has overtaken North America as the most digitally attacked continent.

“This is a significant shift. Europe has always been second to North America as a target,” said DK Matai, executive chairman, mi2g. “North America, particularly the U.S., has learnt from coming under regular digital fire and is now hardened in comparison to Europe. Many Europeans do not see themselves as legitimate targets because of their perceived neutrality on the world stage. They are mistaken because evidence shows that criminals and malevolents gravitate towards low hanging fruit and attack those easy-to-get opportunities ferociously.”

Digital Attacks for November 2003
United States 3,696
Germany 2,314
UK 1,183
Netherlands 967
Brazil 962
Turkey 549
Italy 529
Austria 354
Switzerland 335
China 317
Canada 209
Source: mi2g

Most of the successful server-level online digital attacks carried out by hackers continue to be against Linux with 61.7 percent of all attacks followed by Microsoft Windows with 23.7 percent. However, in the government computing environment, the main victims have been Microsoft Windows servers registering a record high of 84.1 percent of all successful digital attacks followed by Linux at 10.1 percent.

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • Product-oriented messages advertise general goods or services.
  • Financial marketing messages are those that make reference to money, the stock market, credit reports, loans, and investments.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • “Other” encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.
  • The health category offers health-related products or services, such as herbal remedies or medical treatments.
  • Internet- or computer-oriented e-mails are those that advertise related products or services, such as Web hosting, or design.
  • Leisure-related messages are those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos.
  • Unwanted political messages pertain to those advertising a candidate’s campaign and requests for donations to a particular political party or cause.
  • Spiritually oriented messages include offerings for psychics, organized religion, and astrology.

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