China is the undisputed leader in targeted malware attacks but, according to Sophos' first quarter spam report, it's no longer among the world's largest producers of spam.

The country is still viewed by many as a major hotbed of hacking activities, with Chinese hackers being fingered for tricking top executives at three of the world's largest oil companies into revealing extraordinarily valuable intellectual property and infiltrating the data networks of some of the world's largest companies to spy on activists and others viewed as unfriendly to the Chinese government.

Top 12 Spam-Relaying Countries

(January-March 2010)
1. USA 13.1%
2. India 7.3%
3. Brazil 6.8%
4. South Korea 4.8%
5. Vietnam 3.4%
6. Germany 3.2%
9. United Kingdom 3.1%
Russia 3.1%
Italy 3.1%
10. France 3.0%
11. Romania 2.5%
12. Poland 2.4%
  Others 47.3%

Source: Sophos

Yet, the Sophos report points the crooked finger of blame directly at Uncle Sam when it comes to spam, pegging the U.S. as the source of more than 13 percent of the world's unsolicited mail and come-ons for pharmaceuticals and other illicit wares.

China didn't even make the so-called "Dirty Dozen," falling to No. 15 with only a 1.9 percent share of the spam pie. That's a dramatic decline from almost 5 percent in mid-2009.

"All eyes aren't so much on which countries are on the list, but the one which isn't," Graham Cluley, a senior technologist at Sophos, said in the report. "China has earned itself a bad reputation in many countries' eyes for being the launch pad of targeted attacks against foreign companies and government networks, but at least in the last 12 months they can demonstrate that the proportion of spam relayed by their computers has steadily reduced.

India checked in at No. 2 on the list at 7.3 percent, followed by Brazil and South Korea at 6.8 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. Vietnam moved up to No. 5 on the spam charts at 3.4 percent, barely edging out Germany (3.2 percent) for Top 5 billing.

By continent, Asia led the pack with almost 34 percent, outpacing Europe (31 percent) and North America (17 percent).

The motley trio of Russia, the United Kingdom and Italy tied for ninth on the list of individual countries at 3.1 percent apiece while France, Romania and Poland rounded out the "Dirty Dozen."

These top spam-producing countries accounted for a little over half (52.7 percent) of the world's spam in the first three months of the year, proving that unsolicited offers for shady drugs and pleas for "assistance" to recover vast sums of government-absconded riches is truly an international phenomenon.

"We all shouldn't forget that if no one bought products sold via spam, there would be a lot less incentive to send junk e-mail," Cluley said. "Computer users should not just protect their computers from threats like malware and spam, they should also pledge to never, ever buy anything advertised via spam."

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.