Spam down, with other threats grabbing share from pharma emails

Spam spam spamThe high proportion of unsolicited emails peddling prescription drugs indicates close links with the counterfeit medicines sector, so it is encouraging that the first half of this year showed a "marked decline" in spam, according to security company M86.

Email threats were dramatically reduced following the takedown last year of two major spam operations - and the Rusteck botnet  - and this had a deep impact on the operations of rogue online pharmacies, says the firm in its half-yearly report.

Rustock almost always promoted pharmaceutical products, notably via the infamous Canadian Pharmacy brand websites, while Spamit was linked to Glavmed, one of the largest pharmaceutical affiliate programmes.

In fact, pharmaceutical spam has dropped markedly to just 39 per cent from more than 80 per cent at the beginning of the year, says M86. Other categories have however risen to fill the gap; while pharma remains the biggest category, spam messages related to dating (21.4 per cent), replicas (18.5 per cent) and gambling (15.7 per cent) are closing the gap.

"It may be that competing affiliate programs in other categories are now more financially attractive for the spammers," says the report.

As of June 2011, eight botnets were responsible for 93 per cent of spam. In the aftermath of the Spamit and Rustock closures, other smaller botnets, such as Donbot and Xarvester, have increased their market share.

Malicious spam is on the rise, however, with attackers continuing to craft more legitimate looking messages in order to coax users into executing malicious files. There has also been an increase in phishing attacks that include an HTML attachment, which is used to bypass anti-spam and anti-phishing filters in browsers, says M86.

Social media addicts beware. "Facebook scams surged in the first half of 2011, as cybercriminals experimented with different ways to dupe social networkers into helping them earn a profit," it notes.

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