The United States has lost its position as the leading source of spam in the world, with Europe taking over the dubious lead.

The shift in positions stems from a dramatic increase in spam coming out of Europe, particularly Western European countries, such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain, according to new research from Commtouch Software Ltd., an email security company based in Mountain View, Calif. During this period, spam levels in the U.S. have held steady.

If each country is counted singularly, however, the U.S. still is the source of more spam than any other one country. Europe, as a whole, now outpaces America.

Commtouch analysts report that on an average day last month, 967,437 separate outbreaks of spam were distributed. That's up 94 percent from the same time last year.

''These trends contradict prevalent assumptions -- that spam is primarily sent from developing areas,'' says Oren Drori, director of product marketing at Commtouch. ''In fact, Commtouch analysis shows that the wealthy countries of Western Europe are the source of more spam than developing Eastern European counterparts. The same trend can also be seen in the Asia Pacific region. Richer countries simply spam more.''

Last month, Commtouch analysts detected spam being sent from 172 countries. Europe accounted for 24.7 percent of total spam, the bulk of it (21.85 percent) coming from European Union countries. Japan and Korea followed closely, together accounting for 24.24 percent of all spam being sent out. Only 22.8 percent of spam originated in the United States.

Spam Content

The largest chunk of spam last month fell into the pharmaceutical category.

Commtouch reports that 35.5 percent of spam last month was related to selling drugs, with tranquilizers, anti-anxiety drugs and anorexics gaining popularity.

''Judging from February trends, one might conclude that the world is getting more anxious, and that what sells best over the net are cut-rate prescription drugs,'' says Drori. ''A few months ago, you could be sure that Viagra would capture the lion's share of this segment, but today it comes in second after the tranquilizer/anti-anxiety category.''

After pharmaceuticals comes shopping, software sales, pornography and mortgage/refinancing.