Spyware Used By Spammers In New Twist On Spam Attacks

London, 22 June 2004, Spammers have started using spyware in a move towards more sophisticated and targeted spam attacks, according to MessageLabs, the leading provider of managed email security services to businesses worldwide. Hacking software, known as spyware, is being installed on victims machines to automatically send personal information about the user of the machine back to the spammer, who then includes that information in the subject line of subsequent spam emails. The idea is that by using familiar words and phrases, such as passwords, a pets name, or a company name, users will be more likely to open the email.

MessageLabs discovered the use of this new technique last week, as part of their analysis of the 50 million emails a day scanned on behalf of its 8,500 customers.

Matt Sergeant, MessageLabs? Senior Anti-Spam Technologist, explains:

The spyware finds its way on to machines in the usual ways, and is then used to log personal information and send it directly back to the spammer. These details are then incorporated into spam emails and sent back to the unlucky victim, who might not be suspicious of the emails because they seem to contain information directly relevant to them. If you receive an email with your son or daughters name in the subject line, for example, you’re unlikely to delete it. This represents a shift on behalf of some spammers from a random, scattergun approach to a more tailored attack. As yet it does not seem to be a widespread technique, but we expect it to become more common and computer users should be on their guard.

The convergence of spyware and spam is the latest milestone in the evolution of spamming techniques as we increasingly find that spammers, virus writers and hackers are combining their malware to create evermore sophisticated email security threats. It is further evidence that the lines between the different types of email security threat are becoming more and more blurred.

About MessageLabs

MessageLabs is the leading provider of managed email security services to businesses worldwide. The company currently protects more than 8,500 global businesses from email threats such as viruses, spam and other unwanted content before they reach their networks and without requiring additional hardware or software. Powered by a global network of control towers that currently spans the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, MessageLabs scans 50 million emails a day on behalf of customers such as The British Government, The Bank of New York, EMI Music, HealthPartners, StorageTek, Air Products and Chemicals, SC Johnson, Condast Publications, Fujitsu and Diageo. For more information on MessageLabs and its industry-leading email security and management services, please visit: www.messagelabs.com

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