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23 Jan 2006

Bill Gates death-of-spam prediction flops, as "dirty dozen" spam countries revealed

US tops stats again, as top spam-relaying countries revealed

Sophos, a world leader in protecting businesses against viruses, spyware and spam, has published its latest report on the top twelve spam-relaying countries over the last quarter of 2005.

Experts at SophosLabs scanned all spam messages received in its global network of spam traps, and have revealed that although the United States still heads up the chart, it has made significant reductions, and for the first time accounts for less than a quarter of all spam relayed.

However, Sophos has also found - on the eve of the date that Bill Gates predicted spam would be eradicated* - that the level of non-English language spam is continuing to increase, with the vast majority now being relayed by 'zombie' computers hijacked by Trojan horses, worms and viruses under the control of hackers. Sizeable increases are also happening in "pump-and-dump" stock spam, designed to artificially inflate stock prices before spammers sell shares at considerable profit.

The top twelve spam relaying countries are as follows:

PositionCountryPercentage
1 United States
24.5%
2 China (inc Hong Kong)
22.3%
3 South Korea
9.7%
4 France
5.0%
5 Canada
3.0%
6 Brazil
2.6%
7 Spain
2.5%
8 Austria
2.4%
9 Taiwan
2.1%
=10 Poland
2.0%
=10 Japan
2.0%
12 Germany
1.8%
Others 20.3%

Helped by legislation such as CAN-SPAM and greater information sharing by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the US has led the way in imposing severe penalties and fines for those found guilty of spamming. Recently, an Iowa-based ISP was awarded $11.2 billion in a judgment against Florida-based spammer James McCalla, while another culprit, Daniel Lin of Detroit, is currently facing a sentence of at least two years imprisonment for his actions.

"It's good news for the US - the tougher sentences being dished out are clearly making spammers feel the heat," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "However, it's not such good news for Bill Gates's skills as a fortune teller, as spam is clearly not a thing of the past. Email users worldwide are still being bombarded by all manner of unsolicited messages, and it must be said that, two years on, Gates' famous prediction now looks extraordinarily optimistic."

Elsewhere in the chart, the amount of spam relayed by South Korean computers has fallen substantially to 9.7%, meaning that it has been overtaken by China, which moves into second place behind the US. The UK, responsible for relaying 1.6% of spam, has managed to slip out of the dirty dozen altogether, and is currently in 14th position.

"The bad news is that the contribution of China is up by seven percentage points since October 2005, as the spam economy takes off over there. Further bad news - and perhaps more of a surprise - is the continued rise in the percentage of spam from France, which has gone from 1.2% a year ago, to 3.5% in October 2005, to 5%," continued Cluley. "Everyone, wherever they are in the world, needs to make sure their PC is not being used to relay spam."

"Computer users in the UK are putting the squeeze on spammers by better protecting their computers from being turned into spam-relaying zombies. It's encouraging to see that the UK no longer occupies one of the top twelve positions," continued Cluley. "In contrast, the amount of non-English language spam continues to grow - proof that spammers are attempting to exploit every corner of the global market with their money-making schemes."

The fact that the dirty dozen is comprised of nations from four different continents gives an indication as to the nature of the spam problem. Zombie computers - responsible for relaying more than 60% of the world's spam - can allow spammers to escape country-specific legislation, as they no longer have to be located in the same country as the spamming machines they operate.

For more information about the latest trends in spam and viruses, read the in-depth Sophos Security Threat Management Report 2005:

Download "Sophos Security Threat Management Report 2005" 

Sophos recommends that computer users ensure they keep their anti-virus software up-to-date, as well as using a properly configured firewall and installing the latest operating system security patches, to reduce the risk of their PCs becoming part of a zombie network. Businesses must also look to implement a best practice policy regarding email account usage.

* On 24 January 2004, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bill Gates predicted that spam would be a "thing of the past" within two years.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.