The distribution of unwelcome or dangerous e-mails was on the rise again in the first half of 2012, despite the fact that numerous spam-sending botnets have been shut down in the past two years, according to the results of analyses by the research team at German e-mail security specialist Eleven. The report indicated there was 54.8 percent more spam (after a slight drop of 3.7 percent in the first quarter), 52.4 percent more identified malware, and 90 percent more virus outbreaks in the second quarter of 2012.
The second main trend of the first half of 2012 was the rise in spam, phishing, and malware campaigns targeted to a specific country, customers of a regional banking institution, or the users of specific services, such as with Amazon's German site or PayPal users, with malware campaigns disguised as phony mobile telephone bills, notification slips, and tax notifications. Typical characteristics were a clearly limited recipient area, credible content, high language quality, and Web sites that are almost perfect copies of the originals.
In the first six months of this year, the U.S. was back on the list of the top ten spam senders worldwide, landing in sixth place. In June it reached fifth, alongside Germany (third) and the United Kingdom (eighth), one of three Western countries placing among the top ten sources of spam, with India remained the top spam-producing country. This indicates a remarkable comeback after the Rustock botnet was shut down in March 2011, when the volume of spam coming from Western countries was reduced to a trickle.
"The clear shift in spam topics and countries of origin indicates a gradual return to the pre-Rustock shutdown status quo," the report noted. "This means that botnet operators have been at least partially successful in replacing the capacity they lost last March. The increase in the spam volume could also be evidence of the existence of new botnet infrastructures."
In addition, phishing e-mails saw an increase in the first quarter, when their growth rate jumped by 169.6 percent. Looking at the total e-mail volume, spam had an average share of 70.8 percent in the first six months of 2012. On June 29, the heaviest spam day of the year until now, its share jumped to 89.2 percent, according to the report. The first half of 2012 represented a high point in event-related spam campaigns, especially around Valentine's Day and Mother's Day in the United States, with numerous campaigns targeted to specific countries and regions.
Among the most popular targets were major sporting events, in particular the Euro 2012 soccer tournament and the Summer Olympic Games in London. Both events were used as bait for phishing campaigns, with the most popular scams consisting of phony ticket lotteries requesting bank account and credit card data. In addition, job spam seems to be gaining in importance, placing as the third most-popular spam subject with 4.7 percent, while pharmaceutical spam was the top spam subject with 30.1 percent, almost twice as common as the next topic, casino spam (15.1 percent).