The Deadly Duo: Spam and Viruses, June 2003

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There was only a moderate increase in June 2003's spam volume, climbing nearly 2.5 percent, compared to the more than 6 percent that has been measured over previous months. Brightmail counted 7,684,059 unique spam attacks for the month, with the biggest increase seen in product-related messages.

The "spiritual" category remained unchanged at 2 percent of all spam, while the "adult" and "health" categories each dropped 7 percent.

June 2003 Spam Category Data
Type of SpamMayJuneChange
Source: Brightmail's Probe Network

MessageLabs made a prediction in December 2002 that spam would outnumber non-spam around July 2003, and Brightmail data supports the forecast. As of June 2003, Brightmail found that more than 48 percent of all e-mail traffic was spam, and the company expects the halfway point to be reached before the end of the summer. Brightmail is already finding that some e-mail users, such as high profile companies, are suffering from spam rates as high as 79 percent.

To underscore the speed in which spam is multiplying, Brightmail compares April 2001's ratio when only 7 percent of all e-mail was regarded as unwanted messages.

"Spam e-mail volumes are growing exponentially, so our forecast of spam breaking the 50 percent barrier of total Internet email traffic this summer is a conservative one. While the volume of adult spam is disturbing, the largest category of unsolicited spam continues to come from illegitimate direct mail companies that offer products to e-mail users who have not requested to be contacted," commented Brightmail's CEO, Enrique Salem.

The skyrocketing corporate spam rate has led to productivity losses, according to a survey from the American Management Association, Clearswift, and The ePolicy Institute.

The study of more than 1,100 U.S. employers revealed that employees spend about 25 percent of their workday on e-mail, averaging 107 minutes per day. While 24 percent report spending less than one hour, 31 percent spend more than two hours, and 8 percent more than four hours.

Furthermore, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents say that they have lost time in the last year due to e-mail system problems — 35 percent estimate they lost only half a day, but 24 percent think they have lost more than two days.

On the positive side, 86 percent of respondents agree that e-mail has made them more efficient, in spite of the fact that nearly all (92 percent) receive spam mail at work. Nearly half (47 percent) say spam constitutes more than 10 percent of all their e-mail, and 7 percent report spam represents over 50 percent of all e-mail received.

"E-mail is a great communications tool but not without its shortcomings," said Ivan O'Sullivan, vice president at Clearswift. "These statistics reveal and solidify the idea that companies need to be proactive in understanding how to protect their confidential information assets and train employees how to maximize productive use of e-mail."

In addition to spam, viruses remain a growing threat to the widely used communication tool, as the "Worm/BugBear.B" worm becomes the most prevalent for the month of June.

June 2003 Dirty Dozen
2.Worm/Klez.E (including G)18.2%
Note: The table above represents the most prevalent
viruses for June 2003, number one being the most frequent.
Source: Central Command, Inc.

"Worm/BugBear.B was triumphantly spreading around the globe at an alarming rate and it is considered highly malicious because it can expose sensitive data," warns Steven Sundermeier, product manager at Central Command, Inc.

Worm/BugBear.B drops a keylogger component that can record and leak vital information about the user, contains a backdoor designed to wait on TCP Port 1080 and listen for instructions from its creator, as well as, the ability to disable personal firewall and antiviral software.

Brightmail defines the categories as follows:

  • Product-oriented messages advertise general goods or services.
  • "Other" encompasses miscellaneous messages that do not pertain to any of the specified categories.
  • Financial marketing messages are those that make reference to money, the stock market, credit reports, loans, and investments.
  • Spiritually oriented messages include offerings for psychics, organized religion, and astrology.
  • Leisure-related messages are those advertising prizes, awards, discounted travel, online games and casinos.
  • Scam messages contain fraudulent or intentionally misguiding content.
  • Internet- or computer-oriented e-mails are those that advertise related products or services, such as Web hosting, or design.
  • Adult-oriented spam refers to offerings for offensive or inappropriate material, intended for persons over the age of 18.
  • The health category offers health-related products or services, such as herbal remedies or medical treatments.