Dirty dozen: USA number one culprit as spam becomes more malicious

January 11, 2011 Sophos Press Release

IT security and control firm Sophos has published the latest 'Dirty Dozen' of spam-relaying countries, covering the fourth quarter of 2010. The United States increased its lead at the top spot, and continues to be responsible for nearly one in five junk emails – 18.83% of all spam messages.

The US's domination of the list underlines the continuing problem of computers being compromised by hackers in the country, allowing them to be remotely controlled for criminal purposes without the owners' knowledge.

The UK decreased its percentage of total spam output compared to the third quarter last year – from 5% to 4.54% – however it remains in fifth place overall.

Sophos notes that, while the same countries continue to dominate in terms of spam output, the nature of the spam being distributed is becoming more malicious. Traditional subject matter such as adverts for pharmaceuticals continue to be a concern, with some 36 million Americans reported to purchase drugs from unlicensed online sellers - but more and more messages are spreading malware and are attempting to phish user names, passwords and personal information.

The top twelve spam relaying countries for October - December 2010

1. USA 18.83%
2. India 6.88%
3. Brazil 5.04%
4. Russia 4.64%
5. UK 4.54%
6. France 3.45%
7. Italy 3.17%
8. S Korea 3.01%
9. Germany 2.99%
10. Vietnam 2.79%
11. Romania 2.25%
12. Spain 2.24%
Other 40.17%

Sophos warns that there has also been an increase in more focused, targeted email attacks, known as spearphishing. In addition to this, Sophos is continuing to receive an increased number of reports of malicious apps, compromised profiles and unwanted messages spreading across social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

"Spam is certainly here to stay, however the motivations and the methods are continuing to change in order to reap the greatest rewards for the spammers," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "What's becoming even more prevalent is the mailing of links to poisoned webpages – victims are tricked into clicking a link in an email, and then led to a site that attacks their computer with exploits or attempts to implant fake anti-virus software."

For Q4 2010, Europe decreased its overall percentage of relayed spam messages compared to Q3.

Top spam-relaying continents, July - September 2010

1. Europe 32.11%
2. Asia 31.89%
3. N America 22.38%
4. S America 10.25%
5. Africa 2.12%
Other 1.25%

"Regardless of what methods spammers use, internet users should never be tempted to open a spam message out of curiosity, or click on an unknown link, just because it appears on a Facebook friend’s profile," continued Cluley. "Internet users need to become aware of these new approaches to cybercrime as the spamming techniques become more and more sophisticated. As long as spammers continue to make money from these schemes, internet users can be sure that they'll continue to receive unsolicited emails and social networking scams. To combat this, it’s essential that computer users remain wary of clicking on unknown links, regardless of whether they appear to be on a trusted contact's social networking page."

Sophos recommends that companies automatically update their corporate virus protection, and run a consolidated solution at their email and web gateways to defend against spam and viruses. Home users are advised to defend their computers with virus protection, to prevent becoming part of a botnet used for the purposes of sending spam.