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Scam and Fraud Spam on the Rise

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2007-07-11 Print this article Print

Rip-off e-mails now account for 14% of total spam traffic, says a recent report. The good news: Overall levels stayed flat, and network-clogging image spam declined.

Last month, scam and fraud spam surged to 14% of total spam traffic, up from 9% in March, security software maker Symantec says in its "State of Spam" report for July.

If there were any bright spots, it's that overall spam levels remained consistent in June, at about 65% of basic e-mail traffic, and that the number of spam messages containing enormous, network-clogging images declined.

Last month, 14.5% of the estimated 180 billion-plus spam messages sent each day was of the image spam variety, down from 27% in April and a peak of 52% in January, according to the "State of Spam" report.

Image spam, which is very popular with the pump-and-dump, penny-stock crowd, is an obfuscation method where the text of the spam message is displayed in a GIF or JPEG image and is accompanied by an innocuous subject line.

But spammers are a determined bunch, and they eat away at an I.T. budget. This year, companies will spend more than $198 billion on anti-spam software or roughly $257 per e-mail account, according to The Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based technology and market research firm.

"For CIOs, image spam was a big drain on their e-mail systems," says Doug Bowers, senior director of anti-spam engineering at Symantec. "Now the challenge is figuring out what's taken its place and how best to combat it."

Bowers says that while straightforward image spam may be on the decline, PDF-based spam containing images is on the rise. Annoying ads for pornography, pharmaceutical drugs and mortgages tend to dominate the spam universe, but companies need to be on the lookout for more sophisticated phishing scams in the future.

"We're seeing more examples of social engineering in this area," Bowers explains. "A lot of the new spam is trying to engage people in a dialogue with the ultimate goal, of course, of getting personal and financial information to rip you off."

CIOs determined to keep their networks humming along and their colleagues' inboxes relatively uncluttered need to be vigilant about keeping the most updated anti-spam software installed, read up on the latest spamming tricks and take the time to report new or particularly sneaky spamming techniques to software vendors and online spamming forums.

The Radicati Group predicts that spam will account for 75% of messaging traffic this year, growing to more than 82% in 2011.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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