January 6, 2011

E-Mail Spam Levels Dropping Worldwide

Your e-mail trash folder may be looking a bit lean lately. Since August of last year, the overall volume of e-mail spam has steadily dropped and it was more pronounced at the end of 2010.

The software security firm Symantec reports in its latest State of Spam Report & Phishing Report that there has been a huge reduction in output from the Rustock botnet, which was clearly the most dominant spam botnet in 2010. Since December 25, the Rustock botnet has basically disappeared as the amount of spam from it has fallen below 0.5% of worldwide spam.

"Around the Christmas holidays, three of the largest spam producers curtailed their activity, but it is hard to say why," Paul Wood, a senior analyst at Symantec Hosted Solutions told BBC News.

In addition to the decline in the Rustock botnet activity, MessageLabs also pointed out that two other major botnets disappeared off of the spam map. The Lethic botnet has been quiet since December 28, and the Xarvester botnet went silent on December 31.

"There have been huge drops in spam levels before. Usually they have been associated with the botnets being disrupted. As far as we can tell Rustock is still intact," Mr. Wood added.

"Spammers are driven entirely by profit," Carl Leonard, a researcher at security firm Websense, told BBC. "So if a campaign is not getting the returns they want, they can stop, regroup and try something else," he said.

"Anti-spam campaigns have had enjoyed recent success in making life difficult for spammers," Mr. Wood told the news agency.

In late September 2010, a collective known as Spamit announced it was closing because of "numerous negative events" and increased attention.

"That has certainly contributed to the current decline in spam volumes," Vincent Hanna, an investigator at anti-spam group Spamhaus, told BBC.

"This was a significant operation, with assets all over the world. It's decision to stop operating - or at least lay low for a while - has made it more difficult for [other] spammers. That helps explain the longer-term drop, but the reason for the reduction in December in not yet understood," he added.

"There have, however, been signs that spammers are turning to alternative methods to e-mail for distributing their messages - such as Facebook and Twitter, Even so, it is still too early to say the current lull in activity will last," said Mr. Leonard.

In December, Twitter accounts were hijacked to distribute diet pill spam after a list of possible passwords was published online. "For years there have been predictions that e-mail spam is set to decline," said Mr. Leonard. "But for as long the spammers can generate profit from their activities, it's not going away."

Mr. Wood reports, "New spammers usually pop up to replace inactive ones. "We've yet to see any evidence that spam has become a bad business to be in."


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