Spam and Malware Team Up – Dark Roads Ahead

As the ancient Chinese curse goes, “may you live in interesting times,” an omen with a ring of truth to it, where spam is concerned. With the ongoing war on spam being won by the good guys (if you believe the hype, that is), multiple reports suggesting that spam numbers are on the decline, and a bevy of reports suggesting that spam is rebounding just as quickly as we knock it to the mat, it’s hard to debate that these are, indeed, interesting times.

In fact, a close relative to that ancient Chinese curse goes “may you get what you wish for”, researchers pat themselves on the back for taking down high profile botnets; law enforcement agencies make sure the world knows it when the cuffs are slapped on some misbehaved child; and Microsoft even offers an alternative for spammers who would rather put their devious ways to good use than work at Wal-Mart. So if we have gotten what we wished for – a vast reduction in spam – why haven’t things gotten better?

Pop quiz, hotshot

There are four schools of thought about spam, so let’s take a little quiz:

A. The first acknowledges that spammers have been taking advantage of methods other than email to spread the spam love around. Twitter, Facebook and SMS have been prime targets for a while now, and there seems to be no cessation.

B. The second school is of the mind that the cybercriminals have gotten smarter, abandoning mass email campaigns for more intelligent, more targeted attacks. There’s certainly evidence to suggest that there’s some truth here, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

C. The third school suggests that the spam situation hasn’t gotten any better, and that the dips in spam numbers have only been temporary. Recent numbers seem to agree that spam is alive and well, and finding its way to your inbox as you read this.

D. The fourth school has been bombarding us with new math, indicating that while spam’s sheer numbers are on the decline, the amount of malicious attachments are surging in the most disturbing way.

So, with so many schools to choose from, which one should you enroll in? If you’re shrewd (and we know you are), you’ve already concluded that the answer is E. All of the above. It’s ludicrous to suggest that spam email is going away, and if you need a compelling argument, think the people cybercriminals are most likely to target. There are a ton of people out there who think Facebook is just a stock to avoid, but they most likely have email.

Destruction is just a mouse-click away

With all the ways spammers can suck you into a black hole, it’s easy to see how we need to walk on eggshells when traversing the Internet. If anything is true in all the speculation that’s been surrounding the state of spam in the past two years, it’s that the Internet has become far more dangerous. In an article published by last week, a new report suggests that things aren’t getting better. In fact, we may be encountering unprecedented threats, now that the spammers have settled in for the long haul.

The article reports that, in the second quarter of 2012, spam emails were up 54 percent, 52 percent more malware was identified, phishing emails rose 169 percent, and that virus outbreaks as a result of email spam was up a staggering 90 percent.

Take a minute to soak up those numbers, because there’s a disturbing trend occurring here. The primary purpose of malware is to infect, pure and simple. Whether it’s a botnet or Trojan is of little concern, because once infection has occurred, a computer is subject to the whims of the attacker. Ostensibly, the purpose of infection is for financial gain, but who’s to say what the attackers will do with their bright, shiny new zombie PC (or Mac)?

If the numbers are to be believed, all that back-patting by researchers, Microsoft and law enforcement was probably for naught. It appears that all they’ve managed to do was enable the cybercriminals, empowering them to become craftier, more diverse, and yes, probably even vengeful.

Look, it’s a highly commendable thing to put scammers out of business, but there’s an ominous chill in the air that suggests things are going to get worse. We can’t predict the future, but as this article points out, you can prepare your organization for the dark roads ahead.

Written by Malcolm James


  1. Jessica Craig · August 10, 2012

    Unfortunately, this is more believable than the overly-optimistic reports how spam is dead. It’s much better to be pessimistic and prepare for the worse than to think that everything is fine and be hit by surprise. Anyway, I didn’t take in earnest all these reports that spam has dropped so much that it almost got extinct – my inbox is telling me otherwise. :)

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