Probably you don't need anyone to tell you this, but the email security service provider MessageLabs confirms it anyway: email-borne computer viruses are on the rise, as is spam.

The company's annual report on email security threats shows that one in every 212 emails that it monitored in the last year contained a computer virus. That's up from one in every 380 emails in the previous year and translates to one email every three seconds. MessageLabs monitors email for more than 1 million users.

Klez was the No. 1 virus in 2002, with 5 million copies captured, according to MessageLabs. Klez began infecting computers in April but continues to be going strong, with 423,000 copies captured in November alone. A number of Klez variants were also captured, which MessageLabs says highlights a trend among virus writers to continuously unleash altered versions of existing viruses in hopes of outsmarting antivirus software.


In all, MessageLabs says it intercepted more than 237 new viruses in 2002 and expects the number to rise next year. The Yaha virus came in at No. 2 to Klez, with close to 2 million copies intercepted since June. BugBear, released only in September, nonetheless came in third, with 800,000 instances caught. Perhaps most disturbing is that a virus released in July 2001 -- Sircam -- came in at No. 4.

Spam, meanwhile, is becoming more than just a nuisance. MessageLabs said one in every three emails it monitored during the month of November was identified as spam. The past year also saw an increase in the amount of malicious spam sent, which includes spam with virus-like qualities or financial scams like the Nigerian scam.

The company expects that, around July 2003, spam will account for more than half of all email sent. In part, this will be the result of a rise in blended threats and scams such as the FriendGreeting. Posing as an electronic greeting card, the FriendGreeting tricks users into downloading a malicious applet that sends spam from the unwitting user's machine. MessageLabs says it intercepted more than 70,000 copies of the FriendGreeting to date and expects to see more -- and more effective -- greeting card scams in 2003.