Dubai, UAE. – February 7, 2011– Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) has announced the publication of its January 2011 MessageLabs Intelligence Report. Analysis reveals that following a two-week dramatic decline in spam levels, spam now accounts for 78.6 percent of all email traffic, the lowest rate since March 2009, when the global spam rate was 75.7 percent of all email traffic. The volume of spam in circulation in January 2011 was 65.9% lower than for the same period one year ago in January 2010, when the spam rate was 83.9% of all email traffic.
More recently, the events in Egypt over the past few days have captured the attention of people around the world. As history unravels in Egypt, there have been attempts to cut down on all communications and Symantec has been tracking the spam output originating from Egypt in its systems.
As also reported by Arbor networks (http://asert.arbornetworks.com/2011/01/egypt-loses-the-internet/), around 2PM on January 27th, there was a noticeable fall in spam traffic from Egypt. Looking at this from a city level breakdown it appears that traffic from Cairo was affected immediately. Traffic from Giza seemed to continue for a few more hours, albeit at spotty levels and eventually dropped off around midnight Pacific time.
Since then, traffic from Egypt has been eerily silent, although interestingly there were a handful of hours where traffic appeared to show up for a short time in Cairo and Giza. Historically, Egypt has accounted for around 0.1% of spam in terms of country of origin., therefore Symantec doesn’t predict an increase in Spam, but in this case will definitely be hoping and watching for a return to normalcy in Egypt.
The recent global decline published in the January 2011 MessageLabs Intelligence Report, beginning December 25 and continuing through January 1, was the result of both a halt in the spam-sending activities of three botnets – Rustock, Lethic and Xarvester – and also unrest among pharmaceutical spam-sending gangs. During this two week period, spam volumes declined 58 percent from 80.2 billion spam emails per day to 33.5 billion spam emails each day, reminiscent of declines experienced when California-based ISP McColo was taken offline in late 2008 and continuing into early 2009.
“The closure of spam affiliate, Spamit, was partially responsible for the disruption to spam output,” said MessageLabs Intelligence Senior Analyst, Paul Wood, Symantec.cloud. “However, there are likely other factors at work, such as consolidation and restructuring of pharmaceutical spam operations which has led to instability in the market likely to be exploited as a business opportunity by other spam gangs. We expect to see more pharmaceutical spam in 2011 as new pharmaceutical spam brands emerge and botnets compete for their business.”
In May 2010, pharmaceutical spam experienced peak levels when up to 85% of spam was related to pharmaceutical products. However, in January 2011, MessageLabs Intelligence found that pharmaceutical spam accounted for about 59.1% of all spam.
Since the end of 2010, MessageLabs Intelligence has witnessed shifting patterns related to pharmaceutical spam-sending. Previously, the Canadian Pharmacy brand was the most prolific of the pharmaceutical spam brands however, when Spamit shut down in October 2010, the brand disappeared as affiliates switched to sending spam for other brands.
It is no secret the major role that botnets play in spamming and in 2010, spam-sending botnets were responsible for as much as 88 percent of the world’s spam falling to 77 percent by the end of the year. Previously, Rustock had been responsible for 47.5 percent of all spam, approximately 44.1 billion spam emails each day, making it the single, largest spam-sending botnet. Both Lethic and Xarvester accounted for less than 0.5 percent of all spam each.
“At various points during Rustock’s history, the botnet has often exhibited irregular spamming patterns by sending huge volumes of spam before going quiet for several weeks at a time,” Wood said. “But throughout 2010, its spamming pattern was more regular and it had been active non-stop until December 2010. Our investigation revealed no evidence of Rustock being disrupted in any way either by law enforcement or through other action.”
Since January 10, all three botnets have resumed their spam-sending operations but not at their previous levels. Since its return, Rustock, previously the single largest spam-sending botnet, is now responsible for 17.5 percent of all spam in January. The Bagle botnet has now replaced Rustock as the largest spam-sending botnet with output at 20 percent of all spam, but Rustock maintains its position as the largest sender of pharmaceutical spam with 80 percent of its output in January related to pharmaceuticals.
During the two weeks that Rustock was dormant, it was being used for click-fraud to generate fake referrals for click-through expenses.
The January 2011 MessageLabs Intelligence Report provides greater detail on all of the trends and figures noted above, as well as more detailed geographical and vertical trends. The full report is available at http://www.messagelabs.com/intelligence.aspx.
Symantec’s MessageLabs Intelligence is a respected source of data and analysis for messaging security issues, trends and statistics. MessageLabs Intelligence provides a range of information on global security threats based on live data feeds from our control towers around the world scanning billions of messages each week.