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Spam Scams on the Rise
[November 28, 2006]

Spam Scams on the Rise

TMCnet Contributing Editor
Cyber criminals are increasingly flooding the email inboxes of Internet users in the U.K. with spam. A number of gangs that send malware through tempting emails are active in the country, according to a report by Internet security firm Postini.

As per the report, junk emails now constitute 90 percent of all email traffic. The report also says the number of spam messages in Blighty has increased three times since June.

As the holiday season approaches, it will become more and more time-consuming and hassling for users to check their inboxes that are choked with bogus mails pitching sex, drugs and loans.

In the words of Dan Druker, a vice president at Postini, “Email systems are overloaded or melting down trying to keep up with all the spam.”

Postini fished out 7 billion junk emails on the Internet so far in November - a tremendous increase from 2.5 billion in June. Another email security company, SurfControl, has reported a 50 percent increase in the volume of spam in the UK in just two months.

The maximum number of spam originates in the US, China and Poland as indicated by the statistics from security firm Marshal. According to Spamhaus, a cyber crime watchdog, as many as 200 gangs are responsible for almost 80 percent of the unsolicited email traffic.

The escalation in spam traffic can be attributed to the malware that allows miscreants to hack PCs and use them for sending spam. Gangs, with their ‘free’ computing power, utilize these computer networks to spread millions of anonymous junk mails. Termed as 'zombie networks,' or botnets, these networks can have as many as a hundred thousand home computers belonging to unaware PC users.

The malware used for invading computers also termed as Trojan horse programs began initially as pranks but now, being professionally created, have assumed mammoth proportions.

“Before, it was about showing off, now it’s about ripping people off,” observed SurfControl’s Harnish Patel, who was quoted in a Reuters’ report.

Companies are paying a huge price due to these unwanted mails. As per a study published last year, companies lose almost $1,000 per year per employee in productivity and increased computing bills as a result of spam.

Home users also suffer when certain emails extract financial information like bank and credit card details from them. This practice, called phishing, has received a boom with the advent of broadband Internet. Gangs make profits even when a small fraction of the millions of phishing emails are replied to. In the words of Mark Sunner, chief technology officer at MessageLabs, an email security company, “This is a constant game of cat and mouse. The bad guys will not stand still.”

Certain experts have labeled spam as a sociological problem rather than a technological one. The more people are tempted by the lure of aphrodisiacs and fast bucks, the easier it becomes for the cyber mafia to spread its tentacles.


Divya Narain is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To see more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

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