Top trends in 2003 as reported by Brightmail.com
1. Explosion of spam and 'disguises'
In 2003, Brightmail saw spam surpass legitimate e-mail - growing to more than 56% of all Internet e-mail, up from just 40% a year ago. This growth can be attributed to a greater number of spammers, availability of easy-to-use spamming tools and a reduction in the response rates of e-mail users around the globe. As a result, the anti-spam software industry experienced a boom as enterprises and consumers looked to clean out their inboxes. The combination of spam growth and filtering software also led to an increased awareness around "false positives" (valid e-mails mistakenly identified as spam) and the need to be as accurate as possible to avoid filtering legitimate messages. False positives are not only missed communications, but often can represent missed business opportunities.
Additionally, there was a significant increase in attempts and techniques to hide information - sender, origin, links from within the message - from the recipients of spam messages, especially within HTML-based e-mail. Brightmail saw spammers change their techniques to evade spam filters - injecting legitimate words to get around Bayesian technology or increasing the amount of randomisation in every part of the message. Recent trends in randomisation represent some of the most sophisticated techniques yet, from variation in the HTML code to random text inserted in the same colour as the background colour (eg, white text on white background).
2. E-mail fraud and brand spoofing surges
While "Nigerian hoax" spam messages - one of the early e-mail fraud techniques - have been circulating for years, identity fraud and brand spoofing spam exploded in 2003. Fraudulent e-mail messages are those messages that appear to be sent from a legitimate company's Web site or domain address, but in fact are the work of spammers hijacking a company's brand to attract the attention of potential customers. Responses to these messages often allow spammers to gain personal information. As spammers looked to exploit well-known brand names for their own individual financial gain, Brightmail pioneered the fight against fraudulent e-mail in 2003, helping to provide protection from brand damage to major companies around the globe, including banks and other financial institutions.
3. Blended threats
Brightmail measured more blended threats - the bundling of viruses or Trojans with spam - in 2003. The biggest spam Trojans of 2003 were Win32.Hogle.A and SoBig.F. 2003 also witnessed Trojans, such as Win32.Mimail.L, that were designed to launch denial of service attacks against anti-spam blacklist sites.
4. Savvy spammers, same junk mail
While overall spam volumes and the percentage of spam in inboxes increased, there were a handful of spam messages that kept appearing and re-appearing - in many iterations - over the last 12 months. The most common spam messages, with example subject lines, included:
1. Subject: Get Bigger, 100% Proven Results
The market for body part enlargement has apparently not been saturated. Spam messages offering these products and other "adult-related" products and services were the most prevalent in 2003.
2. Subject: Re: You can order PAIN MEDS, Anti-depressants, Weight Loss Meds Online
Offers to purchase prescription drugs of all varieties - from prescription pain relievers to HGH to sexual performance enhancing drugs - were also among the most visible in 2003.
3. Subject: Needs your assistance
The "Nigerian hoax" and its many iterations of it were still among the most popular spam messages being circulated, despite the fact that it's a well-known hoax.
4. Subject: Mortgage rates/refinancing - Mortgage rates at 40 year low
With interest rates hitting an all-time low in 2003, it's not surprising to see mortgage-related spam and offers for other types of financing were among the most commonly sent messages.
5. Subject: Print Ink - Act Now, save 85% on all ink cartridges
Offers for inexpensive printer cartridges were still a frequent sight among spam messages.
6. Subject: Iraqi Most Wanted Cards - These WILL sell out!
The war in Iraq and the recent capture of Saddam Hussein sustained the momentum of this spam message in 2003.
"Brightmail saw spam grow exponentially in 2003 - in both volume and in sophistication," said Enrique Salem, president and CEO of Brightmail. "Despite an anti-spam legislation effort in many countries around the world and a greater general awareness of the spam problem in 2003, Brightmail predicts that spam will continue to consume greater portions of inboxes in 2004, reaching as much as 65% of all Internet e-mail. We also expect spammers to continue to change their techniques in attempts to evade filtering technology, but as the technology leader, we are prepared to face that challenge."Reported by ITWeb, http://www.itweb.co.za
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