TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Seasons Greetings: Spam Worse Than Ever This Month

Seasons Greetings: Spam Worse Than Ever This Month

Ellen Wulfhorst (
Wed, 20 Dec 2006 17:07:38 -0600

By Ellen Wulfhorst

The holiday season brings festive parties, family gatherings -- and a
deluge of spam. Unsolicited messages, or spam, which account for nine
out of 10 e-mails, fill up the inboxes of computer users more than
ever at this time of year, experts say.

"Every year we see a seasonal increase around the holiday season. It's
just worse than it's ever been before this year," said Daniel Druker,
executive vice president of marketing at Postini, a company that
provides message security services.

Spammers spew out millions of e-mails. Some hawk pharmaceuticals and
sexual aids, others offer hot stock tips.

The unscrupulous commit identity theft by luring unsuspecting
recipients into disclosing personal information, while others commit
fraud with the lure of phony offers.

The glut of spam can clog business communications systems to the
extent that e-mails at the workplace can be held up for hours, if not
days, experts say.

"The threat of this is that e-mail becomes no longer productive as a
tool, and that is scary because e-mail is ubiquitous. Most businesses
could no longer run without it," Druker said.

Spam cost an estimated $17 billion in the United States last year in
lost productivity and the expense of measures to fight it, according
to San Francisco-based Ferris Research.

Worldwide, the cost was estimated at $50 billion.

Around the holidays, spammers take advantage as people use computers
for online shopping, experts say.

"You see a big increase around the holidays of messages where they are
trying to fool you into buying things or trick you into providing your
ID," said Jerry Upton, executive director of the San Francisco-based
Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group.

"People are busy and I think the abusers take advantage of that," he


The amount of spam has exploded in recent months, experts say, as
spammers have adopted new tricks. Research by Postini found a record
93 percent of e-mail was spam from September through November.

"The spammers are definitely winning at this point. It's gotten much
worse," said Gerald Thain, a professor of consumer law at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in e-mail issues.
Some long-time netters insist that filtering is working well, but it
obviously is failing. One of the newest dodges is sending spam in the
form of an image rather than text, allowing it to get past filters
that trap spam by hunting down specific words.

So-called image e-mails account for some 30 percent of junk e-mails,
compared with just 2 percent in 2005, Postini said.

Another ploy is called phishing, in which an official-looking e-mail
asks recipients for passwords or personal information.

"Pump and dump" e-mails urge recipients to buy certain stocks, driving
up the price, while in other schemes spammers hijack other computers
-- turning them into what pros call zombies -- to deliver their messages.

"We recently saw 400,000 new zombies coming online every day," said
Atri Chatterjee, senior vice president of marketing at Secure
Computing Corp. in Alpharetta, Georgia.

"What you have is a very aggressive use of innocent computers," he

The battle between spammers and antispammers is like a game of "cops
and robbers," said J.J. Schoch, a security expert at Panda Software, a
developer of computer anti-virus systems.

"The cops try and outsmart the robbers, the robbers try and outsmart
the cops," he said.

Not only has the amount of spam ballooned, but its nature has changed,
said Druker.

"First it was hackers trying to show off how smart they were. Then it
shifted to annoying marketers," he said. "Now a large percentage of
this stuff is coming from criminal networks who are out to steal your

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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