Year-end email threats trend report

Commtouch just released its 2007 Q4 Email Threats Trend Report, based on the automated analysis of billions of email messages weekly. The report examines recent trends in email threats such as the growth and development of zombie botnets that disseminate a range of Internet threats including spam, malware, phishing and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Global spam levels remain high, reaching 96% of all email at its peak during the quarter
  • Blended threats combined email, malware and malicious websites
  • “Storm Worm” botnet caused numerous outbreaks throughout the quarter, including several new spam formats and blended-threat emails
  • 70% of spam messages at the end of Q4 featured sexual enhancement products

Storm botnet: massive, cunning and aggressive

Throughout Q4 the so-called “Storm Worm” botnet was responsible for numerous outbreaks, including MP3 spam, in which an audio stock pump-and-dump message was distributed as an .mp3 email attachment. During outbreak peaks, MP3 spam accounted for 7-10% of all global spam.

Like all botnets, Storm is made up of a massive global network of PCs infected with malware that gives the botmaster remote control. Though end-users are not likely to notice they have been infected, the botmaster can use the hijacked computing power to generate and send spam and malware, host malicious websites, and even perform DDoS attacks. Traditional anti-spam, anti-virus and IP blocking technologies are unable to keep pace with the dynamic activation and deactivation of the endless number of dynamic IPs.

Holiday-related threats sour the season

Q4 was particularly hard-hit by wave after wave of holiday-themed email threats. From October through New Year’s, cyber criminals took advantage of goodwill and celebratory moods to slip past security solutions and into inboxes. Halloween ushered in the season with a blended-threat campaign promising an entertaining “dancing skeleton,” but instead delivered users to a malicious website that infected them with malware. Next a Thanksgiving spam outbreak was sent with Subject lines offering everything from dates to diets. Christmas delivered a holiday-themed blended-threat email including a link to a site that attempted to download new variants of the Storm malware.

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