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The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, April 2003

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Spam attacks climbed another 4+ percent in April — peaking at 7,018,625 — according to data from Brightmail. The biggest increases were seen among financial-related spam, and product-oriented messages, largely due to the April 15th U.S. tax filing deadline.

“Tax-related spam is an example of the opportunistic nature of spammers as they grow more sophisticated,” said Enrique Salem, president and CEO of Brightmail.

Brightmail saw an average of over 200 new spam attacks a day in the first two weeks in April. The company estimates that from March 15th to April 15th there were over 1.5 million tax-related spam messages reaching unprotected e-mail users.

Slightly good news comes from the fact that the percentage of adult-oriented spam remains unchanged at 19 percent, and the number of Internet-related messages decreased 3 percent.

April 2003 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam March April Change
Products 19% 25% +6%
Financial 17% 20% +3%
Spiritual 3% 4% +1%
Adult 19% 19% 0%
Scams 10% 9% -1%
Other 4% 3% -1%
Health 9% 7% -2%
Internet 10% 7% -3%
Leisure 9% 6% -3%
Source: Brightmail’s Probe Network

The spam problem will not go away anytime soon, particularly since 50 percent of the more than 1,000 respondents to a March 2003 Mailshell survey indicated that they believe they are at least partially responsible for the volume of spam they receive. More than one-quarter (28 percent) admittedly replied to spam, and another 8 percent have actually made purchases via unsolicited promotional e-mail.

Unfortunately, according to an April 2003 poll conducted by Osterman Research, nearly half (46 percent) of the respondents inadvertently deleted or overlooked a legitimate piece of e-mail. While Osterman’s survey also indicated that, unsurprisingly, most Internet users found spam to be annoying, there is also a threat of virus transmission accompanying unsolicited e-mail.

The Mailshell survey found that 23 percent of their respondents had their computers infected with a virus, worm, tracking device, or other invasive code, and Central Command, Inc. puts the Worm/Klez.E virus at the top of its monthly list, accounting for 18.7 percent of the total virus infection reports from April 2003. This figure represents a staggering decrease from April 2002, when Worm/Klez.E transmissions escalated to 79.2 percent.

“Since its discovery last April, Worm/Klez.G (detected as Worm/Klez.E) has dominated our Dirty Dozen report. However, we were very pleased to see the total number of infections drop to its lowest levels since the inception of the virus,” said Steven Sundermeier, product manager of Central Command, Inc.

Two new viruses debuted in the Dirty Dozen, Worm/Lovegate.F and Worm/Ganda. Worm/Lovegate.F is a network aware Internet worm that used many different body messages to deceive unknowing e-mail users into running it.

Worm/Ganda is an Internet worm socially engineered to capitalize on the world’s current interest in the events of the Middle East. One of the randomly selected body messages claimed the attachment was a screensaver containing pictures taken by one of the U.S. spy satellites during a mission over Iraq.

April 2003 Dirty Dozen
Rank Virus Percentage
1. Worm/Klez.E (includes G) 18.7%
2. W32/Yaha.E 8.9%
3. Worm/Yaha.M 7.5%
4. Worm/Sobig.A 6.1%
5. Worm/Lovegate.F 5.4%
6. Worm/Sircam.A 5.0%
7. W32/Funlove 3.4%
8. W32/Nimda 2.8%
9. W32/Elkern 2.7%
10. Worm/Bugbear 2.5%
11. Worm/Ganda 1.8%
12. Worm/Yaha.L 1.6%
  Others 33.6%
Note: The table represents the most prevalent viruses
for April 2003, number one being the most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • 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.
  • Spiritually oriented messages include offerings for psychics, organized religion, and astrology.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • “Other” encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.
  • 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.
  • Leisure-related messages are those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos.

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