Report Highlights Spam Increase for Holiday Season

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MessageLabs has released its October 2006 Intelligence Report, detailing specifics of security and threat activity for the month. Among the highlights of the report: October marks the beginning of spam season, with MessageLabs seeing a sharp increase because of large botnet activity. In the past month, the global ratio of spam increased 8.5 percent to 72.9 percent of e-mail traffic coming from new and unknown bad sources.

“This time of year is the run-up to the holiday season as far as the spammers are concerned, and the first holiday in that time period is Thanksgiving,” said Paul Wood, MessageLabs senior analyst. “It’s a few weeks before then that we start to see a rise in botnet activity, so they can send out more spam. In general terms, we’re really at the thin end of the wedge of what spam is potentially going to come from these botnets.”

Wood said he does not know why the holiday season draws an increase in spam, but he did offer one potential explanation.

“I don’t know what the psychology behind it is, but I think peoples’ guard is probably lower when they’re feeling a bit more festive,” Wood said. “They might be more likely to open e-mails.”

He also noted that botnets now have functionality built into the actual bot code that goes into a PC, which enables the bot controller to harvest from that machine personal information such as Web sites the user has visited and addresses in his or her contact list. This allows for phishing attacks that are more likely to hit their targets.

Another highlight of the report came in geographic trends, where the largest rise in spam for the month was in India, increasing 20.5 percent to 49.3 percent of e-mail traffic. Wood said that India is a country in flux online.

“It’s quite an expensive country to connect to the Internet,” Wood said. “Bandwidth there is increasing all the time as the level of privatization (increases). That’s opened the market up and in doing so, there’s been a bit more competition in (providing) access to the Internet. What that tends to mean is that security comes second place — almost an optional extra — because of the other high costs, relatively speaking, to connect to the Internet.”

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