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The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, May 2003

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The influx of Mother’s Day messages contributed to a 6+ percent increase in spam attacks for May 2003. Brightmail measured 7,494,335 unique spam attacks for the month, with the biggest increase seen in health-related messages.

The “products” category remained unchanged at 25 percent for the third consecutive month, and the “adult” category held steady for the fourth consecutive month at 19 percent.

May 2003 Spam Category Data
Type of Spam April May Change
Health 7% 11% +4%
Leisure 6% 8% +2%
Adult 19% 19% 0%
Internet 7% 7% 0%
Products 25% 25% 0%
Other 3% 3% -1%
Scams 9% 8% -1%
Spiritual 4% 2% -2%
Financial 20% 17% -3%
Source: Brightmail’s Probe Network

Meanwhile, disheartening news comes from MessageLabs as a result of their monthly e-mail analysis. The firm found that the global ratio of spam in e-mail broke the halfway mark for the first time in May 2003 at 55.1 percent — an increase of 38.6 percent over April 2003’s figures and an increase of over 40 percent on the year to date, indicating that the majority of e-mail received by business enterprises is now spam.

“The volume of spam now facing computer users every day has now far surpassed the point of being a nuisance and is now causing significant productivity losses and IT costs at businesses across the world,” noted Mark Sunner, chief technology officer at MessageLabs.

Furthermore, May saw viruses increase by 47.4 percent over the previous month, with the spread of two significant viruses, “Fizzer” and “Sobig.B” (aka “Palyh”), as big contributors. Analysis from Central Command, Inc. echoes MessageLabs’ findings:

“In its short period of existence [discovered on May 18, 2003], Worm/Palyh infected thousands of users worldwide outpacing Worm/Klez.E as the number one confirmed virus for May 2003,” said Steven Sundermeier, product manager of Central Command, Inc.

Sundermeier adds, “Worm/Palyh was written very deceitfully, as it arrives masquerading as an e-mail sent from the Microsoft Support Department. Users should ask themselves ‘why would the technical support team at Microsoft send me an unsolicited e-mail with a movie28.pif file attachment?'”

Making its debut in the Dirty Dozen is Worm/Fizzu.A, is an Internet worm that proliferates through e-mail and over various file-sharing programs. “We are seeing more and more viruses coded to spread over Peer-2-Peer (P2P) applications like Kazaa. Nine out of ten times the P2P worm will copy itself under enticing filenames like password cracked software programs, downloaded movies or games or are pornographic themed-based. The bottom line is that programs like Kazaa are opening gapping security holes within a corporate infrastructure,” warns Sundermeier.

May 2003 Dirty Dozen
Rank Virus Percentage
1. Worm/Palyh (Sobig.B) 22.4%
2. Worm/Klez.E (including G) 19.7%
3. Worm/Sobig.A 8.3%
4. Worm/Fizzu.A 6.0%
5. Worm/Yaha.E 3.6%
6. W32/Funlove.4099 3.1%
7. Worm/W32.Sircam 2.5%
8. Worm/Bride.A 2.2%
9. Worm/Lovegate.F 1.5%
10. Worm/Yaha.M 1.1%
11. W32/Nimda 1.1%
12. Worm/BugBear 0.9%
  Others 27.6%
Note: The table above represents the most prevalent
viruses for May 2003, number one being the most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • The health category offers health-related products or services, such as herbal remedies or medical treatments.
  • Leisure-related messages are those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • Internet- or computer-oriented e-mails are those that advertise related products or services, such as Web hosting, or design.
  • Product-oriented messages advertise general goods or services.
  • “Other” encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.
  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • Spiritually oriented messages include offerings for psychics, organized religion, and astrology.
  • Financial marketing messages are those that make reference to money, the stock market, credit reports, loans, and investments.

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