Although it lacks the headline impact of the various forms of nakedly malicious cyber crime such as hacking, phishing, identity theft, worms, viruses and denial of service attacks, spam is fast changing its status from that of online nuisance to major global menace.
Figures for the corporate costs of dealing with the consequences of spam, vary quite widely, but an estimate of $50 billion in 2005 (excluding opportunity costs) by Ferris Research and a projection of $198 billion by 2008 from The Radicati Group are often quoted. With these levels of waste it's small wonder that the war against spammers is about to be prosecuted much more savagely.
One idea that recently achieved some currency was that spam was in decline. Dream on say the experts.
Postini, a US provider of on-demand integrated message management services, announced in November that it had processed nearly 70 billion email connections from September to November, and saw a 59% spike in spam over that period. Postini reckons that unwanted email currently accounts for 91% of all email, and that over the 12 months prior to November the daily volume of spam rose by 120%.
'This dramatic rise in spam attacks on corporate networks has the Internet under a state of siege,' said Daniel Druker, executive vice president of marketing at Postini. 'Spammers are increasingly aggressive and sophisticated in their techniques, and protection from spam has become a front-burner issue again. Spam has evolved from a tool for nuisance hackers and annoying marketeers to one for criminal enterprises.'
And if the experience of John Levine, president of Internet consulting firm Taughannock Networks and co-chair of the Internet Research Task Force's Anti-Spam Research Group, is anything to go by, the spam problem actually just got twice as bad.
'You may have read reports that the total amount of spam is on the decline. Don't believe them. In the month of October, I saw the amount of spam in my traps here roughly double, from about 50,000 per day to 100,000 per day now,' writes Levine on the Taughannock Networks Web site. 'In conversations with managers at both ISPs and corporate networks, I'm hearing the same thing. One corporate network has gone from about 12 million spam rejects a month in June and July to 28 million in October. The very large mail systems don't publish their numbers, but they tell me informally they're seeing the same thing.'
Levine says that no one seems to know why the increase is taking place, but offers the thought that perhaps there's a new generation of zombies, so numerous that the price has dropped and spammers can buy twice as many of them.
Return of the zombies
Zombies are indeed the main generators of unsolicited emails according to IT security firm Sophos, which recently published a 'dirty dozen' chart of spamming countries for July to September 2006. Based percentages the US topped the list with a 21.6% share, followed by China (including Hong Kong) with 13.4%, France 6.3%, South Korea 6.3%, Spain 5.8%, Poland 4.8%, Brazil 4.7%, Italy 4.3%, Germany 3.0%, Taiwan 2.0%, Israel 1.8% and Japan 1.7%.