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Text based spam re-emerges to eclipse image spam

BitDefender UK : 01 July, 2008  (Technical Article)
Spam trends in 2008 showed significant change away from pump and dump scams and image based scam towards standard text based e-mails
E-mail spam went through an important change in terms of content and distribution medium during the first half of 2008, according to BitDefender.

BitDefender has found that from January through June 2008, last year's highly advertised stock spam dropped from 25 percent to just 2 percent, while the formerly intrusive image spam continued its descending trend.

In terms of media and techniques, the most notable trend the analysts uncovered concerns the revival of the text-based spam which reached 70 percent this year, compared to 20 percent for the same period of 2007. Image spam continued its decline and dropped to 3 percent , compared to 60 percent last year.

"Plain text continues to be the most prolific medium for e-mail spam distribution, especially due to its simplicity, reduced size and extreme versatility." said Andra Miloiu, BitDefender Spam Analyst.

Text-based spam still appeals to automated scripts for word scrambling, rephrasing or (synonymic) substitution, while image spam usually deploys obfuscated content. Other types of spam, such as e-mails bearing PDF attachments, audio and video files, etc., decreased in popularity, accounting for 10-15 percent of e-threats.

In the first half of 2008, e-mail spam's content lost its emphasis on stock options, while spam media changes - dominated in the last half of 2007 by various formats of image and audio stock spam - reverted back to non-obfuscated and identical text-based message templates.

The Top 10 list for the first half of 2008's most advocated content through e-mail spam includes:

01 Drugs
02 Replica Watches
03 Phishing (tool for)
04 Pirated Software
05 Pornography
06 Loans
07 Hire & Employment
08 Trojan Viruses Spread (tool for)
09 Dating
10 Diploma

Phishing trends for the first half of 2008 indicate a variation and growth of the spoofed banks and targeted clients. Primarily, forged elements belong to the US financial organizations, while the possible victims are now native English speakers who reside in the US, UK or Canada, although last weeks BitDefender's researchers received several notifications about ongoing attacks from Spain, Italy and France. Most arguments invoked in the illegitimate e-mails are still negative, such as account blocking or expiration and account details update for security reasons.

The Top 10 list of counterfeit business identities in the first half of 2008 includes:

01 eBay
02 Paypal
03 Bank of America
04 Wachovia
05 Fifth Third Bank
06 NatWest
07 Poste Italiane
08 Sparkasse
09 Regions Bank
10 Volksbank

"Spammers and phishers continue to improve their skills in replicating and forging legitimate message characteristics. However, the simple text e-mails proved their efficiency as well, rounding up the total figure of ID theft victims to 50,000 each month," said Vlad Vâlceanu, Head of BitDefender Antispam Research Lab.

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