HOME Technology Nov 2008
Spam jam worsening
In-box infill irritating
Spam levels remain at about 80-90 percent of all email messages, and contain more insidious payloads, despite a trio of Kiwis involved in one of the biggest global junk mail operations being slam dunked by the law.

Three New Zealanders face potential fines of $200,000 each in the first prosecution since the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act was passed here in September 2007.

In New Zealand it is now illegal to send bulk e-mail or text messages, without permission from the person you’re sending them to or without including an unsubscribe function. Internal Affairs alleges they earned more than $2 million from their worldwide operation.

The local prosecution is being sought for allegedly sending more than two million spam emails between September 5 and December 31 last year. A claim was lodged in the High Court after raids in Christchurch last December.

One of the men now living in Queensland, and part of the HerbalKing group responsible for a third of all spam — up to 10 billion messages a day — had his US assets frozen and his spam network shut down. He and a business associate were fined $US2.2 million in 2005 for running a similar operation marketing herbal products.

The ex-pat Kiwi and those working with him allegedly controlled a ‘botnet’ of 35,000 infected computers, sending 120 billion messages every day.

Harder to slam spam

And while most security software on the market has anti-spam capabilities managing spam is getting beyond the technical ability of front line applications.

While anti-spam software and firewalls typically catch 96 percent of offending material, that’s only one percent up on 2006, meanwhile the number of spammers is growing rapidly as if their ability to seek out and weak spots in the system.

A March 2008 Symantec report claimed 80% of all email was spam and overall volumes were was up 20 percent. It warned of a spammer trick called backscattering, which continues to bounce emails around the globe until they're received.

Email appliances which analyse message content for misspelled words, weird patterns, and popular spam terms rate the likelihood of it being spam but users must keep updating online and upgrade the entire software suite annually to keep clean.

Social network flotsam

Meanwhile security specialists are warning that fake pages are appearing in YouTube, MySpace and other social networking sites, in an attempt to trick people into downloading malicious software.

This ploy takes advantage of the trust built up between people in the online community who often share links and small software applications. The links often ask people to view a video or update software which can open the way for software to take over or monitor your computer.

It’s been estimated that as many as 40 percent of social networking profiles are fakes, including invitations from unwanted friends or messages which steer people to ‘dubious websites.

And the amount of spam containing dangerous attachments escalated eightfold between July and September this year according to security firm Sophos. One in every 416 email messages was spam compared to one in 3333 between April and June.

Sophos highlighted a rise in the amount of spam being sent via social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter, and expects this to continue. Its report identified the US as being most responsible unsolicited email, contributing 18.9 percent of total spam, closely followed by Russia (8.3%) and Turkey (8.2%).

Despite New Zealand’s law change, the Department of Internal Affairs received 234 spam complaints through its online submission in September 2008, 231 of them relating to email, most of them originating in New Zealand.

The complaints were from mostly from people receiving something they did not subscribe or mass mail which had had no unsubscribe options.

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