Why Does Spam Work?

The cost of spam

Spam works because about one out of six respond to messages suspect are spam survey data by the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group, an anti-spam trade organization (MAAWG).

Although, about 17% admitted it was a mistake, curiosity seems to play into the hands of spammers. Twelve percent were interested in the product or service, and 13% don’t know why they acted on the message. Six percent “wanted to see what would happen.”

The survey of 800 people in the U.S. and Canada who admitted they were not ‘internet experts’ about 80 percent of users doubted their computers were at risk of ever being infected with a “bot.” This is alarming as covertly planted viruses capable of sending spam are responsible for generating much of today’s illegitimate email.

The problem is not limited to email spam. In a recent banking phishing spam atcacking LibertyBank, an automated phone message claimed”Your card has been suspended because we believe it was accessed by a third party. Please press 1 now to be transferred to our security department.”

Customers who pressed “1” were asked to enter their credit/debit card number and personal identification number. Sadly people fell for it.

“Spamming has morphed from an isolated hacker playing with some code into a well-developed underground economy that feeds off reputable users’ machines to avoid detection” said MAAWG Chair Michael O’Reirdan.

“Consumers shouldn’t be afraid to use email, but they need to be computer smart and learn how to avoid these problems.”

“Bots, or malware running on users’ computers without their knowledge, are responsible for generating up to 90 percent of spam and can also be used to steal personal information or take part in DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks” states MAAWG.  cmsconnect.com  estimates the lost time to be nearly 50 hours per employee and almost $1000 per person per year.

Spam is now major bandwidth gobbling headache for service providers and the growing problem of bot infestations contributing to spam, identity theft and online fraud.

No longer is a spammer the seedy lone money grabbing sneak hiding in the attic. In 2007 “a flood of junk messages was thrown at the e-mail server of the [Estonian] Parliament, shutting it down.” This is why a CMS white paper reccommended country of origin email filtering to reduce spam 50-80%.

As spammers use automated systems to constantly collect email addresses, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year it sometimes seems you are doomed to receive a pile of email 95% promoting MLM and the rest suggesting have such a low IQ that you will give your bank details to a non entity at the north pole.

“Spam is also getting globalised as Brazil, Russia, India and China are among the biggest emerging broadband markets worldwide and as such offer a tremendous opportunity for cybercrime ” states Emirates Business 24/7.

Most  users are familiar with general email-based threats but not necessarily proactively protecting themselves sufficiently.

How will we stop spam when we are such easy targets? Even though 12% claimed they were “very” or “somewhat” experienced with Internet security opened spam before deleting it, while 11% called themselves inexperienced who also opened spam.

Two-thirds used the sender’s name to gauge whether a mail was spam, 45% looked at the subject line and 22% use “visual indicators.” About 3% relied on the time a message was sent to judge if it was legitimate.

About two-thirds considered themselves “very” or “somewhat” knowledgeable in Internet security. While most consumers use anti-virus software and over half said they never click on suspected spam, the survey also found that 21 percent take no preventative anti spam measures.

Yet, 12% of respondents who indicated they were “very” or “somewhat” experienced with Internet security opened spam before deleting it, compared with only 11% of respondents who called themselves inexperienced who did the same.

63 percent would allow their network operator or anti-virus vendor to remotely access their computer to remove detected bots.

Industry analyst Ferris Research, Inc., suggested network operators offer remote bot mitigation capabilities to differentiate their services from competitors. They also suggest refining spam filters based on the specific patterns revealed by the study.

For example, the MAAWG survey found that users between the ages of 24 and 44 are more likely to use email for banking and bill statements, so industry vendors might focus on preventing phishing spam for these consumers.

To combat bot infestations has released a series of strategies used by some of the largest ISP network operators or Common Best Practices for Mitigating Large Scale Bot Infections in Residential Networks (Version 1.0).

The report recommends:

  • While protecting users’ privacy, network operators can use tools to detect infected end-user computers, including DNS, scanning the IP space to identify vulnerable computers, and collecting IP traffic information for known command and control addresses.
  • Email, phone calls to customers, postal mail and walled gardens are common notification tools.. In-browser messages are considered to be among the most effective methods to alert customers but also can be technically challenging to implement.
  • ISPs need to maintain a well-publicized security portal that includes directions for end-user bot removal.

“Bots are a global affliction and these best practices are an important step in educating the industry on the appropriate processes to help protect consumers” said Michael O’Reirdan.

“We’re sharing the experiences of our global membership so that network operators everywhere can more aggressively tackle this problem”


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