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McAfee Spam experiment comes to an end

McAfee : 01 July, 2008  (Technical Article)
Results of spam trial involving volunteers exposing themselves to a month of unfiltered spam reveals that unwanted e-mails are not benign and are closely linked to fraud and other forms of cyber crime
McAfee has released the results of its SPAM (Spammed Persistently All Month) Experiment, in which fifty people from around the world, including five from the UK, surfed the web unprotected for 30 days. By taking part in the experiment, participants were given permission to go where most Internet users would not dare, in order to discover how much spam they would attract and what the effects would be. Having studied the daily blogs and analysed the spam itself, McAfee confirms that spammers are as active as ever and they are increasingly using psychological tricks to lure Internet users to part with their contact details and cash. The experiment clearly shows that spam continues to evolve, utilising more local languages and cultural nuances, as well as becoming much more targeted in a bid to avoid detection.

In the first experiment of its kind, the participants from ten countries received more than 104,000 spam emails throughout the course of the experiment, that's 2,096 messages each, the equivalent of approximately 70 messages a day. Participants from the UK received the fifth highest number of spam attracting 11,965 messages in total; 1,149 of them in the first week, the third highest first week spam count across the globe. One UK participant, software developer Simon, received 5,414 spam emails - the fourth highest number of all the participants.

The results reveal residents in the UK are most likely to be targeted by the infamous 'Nigerian' spam emails - where someone supposedly from Nigeria contacts their target to let them know they are a beneficiary of a long lost relatives' will in a bid to extract money from them. Participants in the UK received 23% of the global total of these emails. The UK participants also attracted a high level of spam of an 'adult' nature, coming second only to US with 18% of the emails received.

One of McAfee's goals of the experiment was to highlight that, contrary to what people might think, spam is not only a nuisance but it also poses a very real threat and is showing no signs of slowing down. For anyone that has ever wanted to 'click' and find out if an offer really is "too good to be true," the McAfee S.P.A.M. Experiment satisfies that curiosity, without any of the risks

Many of the spam messages received were phishing emails; emails which pose as a trustworthy source to criminally acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and bank account details. Other emails carried viruses and many encouraged malware to be silently installed on the computers by persuading participants to surf unsafe websites. Although none of the UK participants received viruses, 8% of the spam emails received were classified as phishing emails. These emails supposedly came from, Bank of America, and eBay. A number of participants noted a decrease in their computer's processing speed, as well as an increased number of pop-ups.

"Many of our participants noticed that their computers were slowing down, this means that while they were surfing, unbeknownst to them, Web sites were installing malware. The fact that in just 30 days they commented on a noticeable change in the power of their computers proves just how much malware is being installed without innocent people's knowledge. Spam is most definitely much more than a nuisance; it's a very real and fast-growing threat. " said Guy Roberts, director of Avert Labs, EMEA

The results of the experiment also reveal a shift away from mass spam emails towards more targeted campaigns. Foreign language and social engineering spam are two areas in which participants received a larger than anticipated number of emails. France and Germany were the two countries that received the most foreign language spam with 11% and 14% respectively, something which McAfee expects to increase substantially across the globe in the future.

"If we'd have done this experiment two years ago, I would have expected a very small percentage of the spam to be written in a foreign language, if any at all. Although this is a small percentage of the overall spam, it's something we expect to grow and grow." XX, McAfee Avert

The most popular subject of spam was financial, for example pre-approved loans or credit cards, which may be symptomatic of spammers taking advantage of the current personal finance climate and perceived global credit crunch. The most popular type of spam for the UK was spam relating to advertisements.

Dave De Walt, CEO of McAfee said: "The McAfee SPAM Experiment proves to us that even though people think they know the dangers of spam, they don't understand the true extent. Our participants came from all walks of life, from all over the world and, given their interest to take part in the experiment, they were well aware of the problem. Despite this, they were all shocked by the sheer amount of spam they attracted in such a short timeframe and the lengths the spammers would go to in order to achieve success."

"I think we can see from the experiment that spam is undeniably linked to cybercrime, however it is such an immense problem and it's never going to go away. It's no longer a question of 'solving' it, but one of 'managing' it."

The Global 'Spam League':.

1 US 23233
2 Brazil 15856
3 Italy 15610
4 Mexico 12229
5 UK 11965
6 Australia 9214
7 The Netherlands 6378
8 Spain 5419
9 France 2597
10 Germany 2331

Top Ten Most Popular Spam Categories:.

1 Advertisements
2 Financial
3 Health and Medicine
4 Adult Services
5 Free Stuff
6 Education
7 IT Related
8 Money Making
9 Credit Cards
10 Watch Adverts

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