Spam is no different. If we understand the trends that the bad guys are following, or creating, then we can better learn how to fight against junk email messages that are not only irritating, but also dangerous.
Below, some of the trends we have been seeing as of late have been broken in to different categories: spam levels, spam topics and phishing.
Before we begin talking about trends in spam levels it is important to note that these numbers are obtained by recording the number of emails that a spam filter identifies as spam. False negatives are not counted in these results and some numbers reflect false positives in their results.
In 2002 spam accounted for nine percent of all email messages. After that, spam levels spiked dramatically; growing to 40 percent in 2003 and then 72.3 percent in 2004. Spam levels fell for the first time in 2005 when they accounted for 68.6 percent of all email messages. This decline was short lived, however, as 2006 saw spam levels rise to 86.2 percent. The years 2007, 2008, and 2009 saw levels fluctuate from 84. 6 percent to 81.2 percent and then back up to 87.7 percent before climbing to an all time high of 89.1 percent in 2010.
After reaching that high, spam levels began a sudden decline falling to 75.1 percent in 2011 and 68 percent in 2012.
What we can take away from this is that while spammers have been hit hard by recent spam fighting technologies, they are still a rather dangerous threat. The numbers have not fallen to an acceptable rate; in fact 68 percent is still rather high when you think about it. In short, efforts to keep spam at bay still need due diligence by businesses of all sizes.
One of the more interesting trends to follow is the topics that spammers use when sending out their email campaigns.
Whenever there is a major world event, like the World Cup or the Olympics, you can be assured that the cyber criminals will take advantage of worldwide interest and use these as their subjects. Outside of these internationally appealing topics, there are some others that tend to be used more than others.
Originally, scams were a popular topic for spammers. The 419, or Nigerian Prince, scam was popular as were emails promising millions in the European lottery.
The topics have changed though. More spammers are trying to appeal to what people want, not their inner most greed. As a result, the most popular topics used by spammers are:
- Adult/dating – 41.3 percent
- Pharmaceutical – 29.3 percent
- Jewelry – 8.7 percent
- Diplomas/degrees – 4.8 percent
- Weight loss – 4.3 percent
Ironically, in these tough economic times the theme of jobs or work only captured 1.4 percent.
As more people develop online relationships through social media, their comfort level in finding a date online has also drastically increased. Spammers know this and use this to their advantage.
People are also more savvy about shopping online so high priced items like pharmaceuticals and jewelry are also common targets for spammers looking to hook their prey with money saving deals.
While the levels of phishing emails never quite reached the levels of spam, they are even more dangerous as they can lead to serious financial losses and damage to a company’s reputation.
In 2004, phishing was only at .1 percent. It rose gradually over the next two years to .3 percent and .36 percent in 2005 and 2006 before reaching the all time high of .62 percent in 2004. Yet like spam, the numbers sharply fell over the next few years dropping to .41 percent in 2008 and .31 in 2009 and finally .23 in 2010. The year 2011 saw a rise back to .33 percent and 2012 dropped to .27 percent.
However, while these numbers look insignificant is should be noted that the .1 percent in 2004 equaled 18 million phishing emails. This downward trend also shows that cyber criminals have taken more to spear phishing, or attacking high value targets as opposed to an attack that casts a wide net.
We can also safely assume that the lower percentages of phishing emails means that their attacks are successful enough to keep the bad guys in business.