The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, October 2003

In what can only be a hope of things to come, the ratio of spam to non-spam dropped 2 percentage points to 52 percent in October, according to measurements from Brightmail’s Probe Network. The amount of unwanted messages had previously shown a steady increase, growing from 40 percent of e-mail in November 2002, and peaking in September 2003 at 54 percent.

Slight fluctuations were evident in the spam categories since last month, however, Internet/computer-related e-mails dropped to half their previous measurement — from 11 percent to 5.5 percent. Scam spam was the biggest gainer, registering more than 4 percentage points higher in October than September.

October 2003 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam September October Change
Scams 10% 14.2% +4.2
Adult 12% 14.5% +2.5
Products 19% 21% +2.3
Financial 14% 16.2% +2.2
Leisure 7% 7.8% +0.8
Political 3% 3.8% +0.8
Spiritual 1% 1.2% +0.2
Health 8% 7.3% -0.7
Internet 11% 5.5% -5.5
Other 15% 8.2% -6.8
Source: Brightmail’s Probe Network

Security information from mi2g revealed a more sinister view of October, with the company calling the month one of the worst for spam proliferation. The economic damage caused by spam worldwide as measured in terms of denial of service and productivity losses has reached $10.4 billion in October, mi2g found.

Denial of service attacks caused by spam factories — operating within the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and China — as well as hijacked home computers have been escalating since the summer. Internet service providers in numerous countries reported overwhelming spam and spam generating malware [define] attacks that have significantly degraded network capacity.

The overloaded inbox problem is so great that a study from Quris identified a backlash against companies that have poor e-mail practices. An overwhelming 80 percent of the nearly 1,700 survey respondents indicated that they have stopped reading permission-based e-mails from some companies because too much of the material is irrelevant.

E-marketers have to learn the delicate balance between information and inundation. Nearly half (45 percent) of the Quris respondents revealed that they have stopped doing business with at least one company because of poor e-mail practices, and more than two-thirds (68 percent) cite excessive frequency as their biggest complaint about permission e-mail programs.

John Funk, CEO of Quris, recognizes the pitfalls of online marketing, and explains that managing customer relationships often requires a deep understanding of the consumer’s behavioral patterns in order to pick-up on the nuances of whether a consumer is disengaged or dissatisfied. “And, if you miss those nuances, this research shows that it can lead to the loss of a customer, not just an unsubscribe from the offending e-mail.”

Permission-based marketers lose readers through other methods too. A Responsys, Inc. survey revealed that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents identified spam and e-mail filters as the primary obstacle to effective permission-based email marketing, followed closely by e-mail inbox clutter at 50 percent.

“Clearly, today’s marketers are facing greater deliverability challenges, as consumers, legislators, and service providers respond to an increase in spam e-mail traffic,” said Helen Roberts, chief operating officer of Responsys, Inc.

On the virus and worm front, mi2g found that the October 2003 damage was $8.5 billion and hacker damage from verifiable overt digital attacks in October was significantly below $1 billion worldwide.

“In the beginning we thought that hackers were more damaging than malware and malware was more damaging than spam,” said DK Matai, executive chairman, mi2g. “October has shown the reverse to be true.”

Central Command, Inc. identified Worm/Sober as the newest annoyance, and Worm/Gibe.C moved up the list to replace Worm/Sobig.F as the most prevalent offender.

“With Worm/Sobig.F reports dropping off substantially, the month of October had a changing of the guard on top of the chart in favor of Worm/Gibe.C,” said Steven Sundermeier, vice president of products and services at Central Command, Inc. “Much of Worm/Gibe.C’s success can be directly attributed to its Microsoft-styled e-mail. Users need to understand that Microsoft does not send attachments over e-mail.”

October 2003 Dirty Dozen
Rank Virus Percentage
1. Worm/Gibe.C 54.7%
2. Worm/Dumaru.A 7.6%
3. Worm/Klez.E (including G) 7.0%
4. Worm/MiMail.A 5.9%
5. Worm/Sober 3.8%
6. Worm/Sobig.F 1.7%
7. Worm/Nachi.A 1.5%
8. Worm/BugBear.B 1.3%
9. Worm/Lovsan.A (Blaster) 1.1%
10. W32/Yaha.P 0.9%
11. Worm/Sobig.A 0.7%
12. W32/Yaha.E 0.7%
  Others 13.1%
Note: The table above represents the most prevalent
viruses for October 2003, number one being the most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

According to virus data from Symantec, [email protected] is the top malicious threat, capturing 7.46 percent of all submissions for North America in October 2003.

Top 10 Malicious Code Threats
and Vulnerabilities October 2003,
North America
[email protected] 7.46%
[email protected] 3.55%
Trojan.Bootconf 2.11%
[email protected] 1.99%
[email protected] 1.75%
W95.Hybris.worm 1.38%
W32.Blaster.Worm 0.93%
W32.Spybot.Worm 0.79%
Trojan.StartPage 0.76%
W32.Welchia.Worm 0.71%
Source: Symantec Security Response

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • “Other” encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.

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