Cash For Emails! Script Kiddies Use Spam To Make Their Fortune

London, Munich, Brussels. 17th August 2004. The first half of 2004 has been dominated by the convergence of different email security attack methods, with financial gain the prime motivation according to a report covering January – June 2004 published today by MessageLabs, the leading provider of managed email security services to businesses.

The MessageLabs Intelligence Email Security report analyses email security trends and developments during the first six months of 2004. Research from the company indicates that the virus and spam landscapes have changed substantially: virus writing ‘script kiddies’ are now teaming up with spammers to produce a more sophisticated breed of email security threat.

In addition, MessageLabs data shows that since January 2004, the majority of the viruses intercepted by MessageLabs on behalf of its 8,500 customers have been found to have the potential for spam distribution, including the MyDoom, NetSky and Bagle viruses.

An analysis of the email traffic intercepted by MessageLabs between January and June 2004 reveals massive growth of spam and virus levels in comparison with the same period in previous years:

* Sixty-three point five per cent (1 in 1.57) of all emails scanned by MessageLabs were identified as spam – up from 37.9% (1 in 2.6) during the same period in 2003 and just 1.5% in 2002 (1 in 67).
* One in every 12 emails scanned by MessageLabs (8.3%) contained a virus, up from 1 in 208 in 2003 (0.5%) and 1 in 392 in 2002 (0.3%).

Paul Wood, Chief Information Security Analyst at MessageLabs, comments:

“The boundaries between viruses and spam have been eroded, and commercial gain would seem to be the driving force. There is little or no profit to be gained from simply distributing viruses, but when you consider the income that can be earned from spam you have an altogether more attractive proposition.

“The script kiddies that used to be content with causing chaos and enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame have realised spam’s potential earning power. They are using their virus writing capabilities to hijack computers and create networks of zombie machines that send millions of spam emails. The preferred method of spamming is now via these botnets and the industry will pay big bucks to hire them out, so it has become cool to spam.”

The phishing phenomenon, which has now occurred on every major English-speaking continent but was largely unheard of this time last year, has also continued in earnest. While MessageLabs intercepted just 14 phishing-related emails back in August 2003, so far 2004 has seen the average number detected each month hit about 250,000, with a peak in January of 337,000.

These online fraud scams involve the use of viruses, spam, spoofed websites and other social engineering techniques. Again, the intent is financial gain: by duping computer users into entering personal details on fraudulent websites the perpetrators defraud organisations and their customers out of considerable sums of money.

In June MessageLabs also announced that spammers have started using spyware as a way of tailoring spam towards its victims.

Wood concludes: “The convergence of spyware and spam is just the latest milestone in the evolution of spamming techniques, as spammers, virus writers and hackers are combining their techniques in an attempt to increase the efficiency of email security attacks.

“Data obtained from MessageLabs’ records for the first half of 2004 clearly indicate that the complexity and scale of the threat has moved on and, correspondingly, companies need to make sure that the security protection they have in place has developed as well. First generation, software-based solutions have failed to evolve and one of the most logical places to deploy protection is at the internet level, where known and unknown threats can be combated before they reach the network boundary.”

Note to Editors: Full copies of the MessageLabs Intelligence Email Security Report January-June 2004 are available to be downloaded from the website:
http://www.messagelabs.com/news/virusnews/detail/default.asp?contentItemId
=1079&region=

About MessageLabs
MessageLabs is the leading provider of managed email security services to businesses based on market shares or revenue according to the Yankee Group Security Solutions & Services, February 2004 Report. The company currently offers industry-leading protection to more than 8,500 businesses around the world from email threats such as viruses, spam and other unwanted content before they reach their networks and without the need for additional hardware or software. Powered by a global network of control towers that currently spans 13 data centres in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Hong Kong, MessageLabs scans millions of emails a day on behalf of customers such as The British Government, The Bank of New York, Bertelsmann, Bic, CSC, Conde Nast Publications, EMI Music, Diageo, Orange, Random House, SC Johnson and StorageTek. The company has more than 300 channel partners, including BT, Cable & Wireless, CSC, IBM, MCI and Unisys and publishes real-time data and analysis on viruses, spam, phishing scams and other email security threats. MessageLabs’ statistics and experts are frequently quoted in media outlets around the world and its executives regularly speak at industry conferences. For more information on MessageLabs and its industry-leading email security and management services, please visit www.messagelabs.com.




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