Europe's The New Spam Capital - Symantec Report

Europe's The New Spam Capital - Symantec Report

Don't be surprised if you see a Valentine's spam originating from Europe that was linked on Google.

Symantec's February State of Spam report indicates that attackers are getting more sophisticated and elusive -- sending copious amounts of spam out of Europe and overseas, capitalizing on holidays and tax season and finding ways to get their sites at the top of the Google pages.

"The richer the media content, the more opportunities spammers have to get their messages across," said Doug Bowers, senior director of anti-abuse engineering for Symantec. "We will see increasingly targeted attacks as well. The specific form or how users will be targeted remains to be seen. We know that spammers will take any tactic that will improve their response rate."

Some of the those tactics include diversifying their geographic locations. Researchers found that European countries are hosting unprecedented amounts of spam compared to months and years past. The number of spam messages originating from Europe surpassed that of North America for the third month in a row, reaching approximately 44 percent of total spam, compared to spam sent from North America which composed about 35.1 percent.

Symantec researchers say this continuing trend is largely due to the exponential growth of broadband users in Europe over the last few years. While a recent report indicates that North America still retains the highest number of broadband users at 66 million, European nations comprise six of the top 10 countries with the largest number of broadband customers in the world.

Researchers have also noted that the proliferation of fast flux Trojan bots have allowed spammers to redirect attention from their country of origin by sending spam from sites all over the world.

And while the percentage of spam originating out of Asia was significantly lower than in Europe or North America -- about 15 percent -- analysts say that the number of spam messages out of Asian countries will rapidly increase in the near future as broadband technology becomes more prolific.

"As broadband continues to become widespread, we know that there will be explosive growth of Internet in Asia," said Bowers. "We know broadband connectivity has become more prevalent around the world. This is something we're going to continue to look at. It speaks to the fact that spam is a worldwide problem."

The report found that spam comprised 78.5 percent of all e-mail traffic during January, excluding spam blocked at the gateway by filters. Of all messages evaluated, e-mails offering goods and services accounted for the largest percentage of spam at 28 percent, followed by spam ads specifically offering Internet or computer-related goods at 23 percent. Scam and fraud spam comprised 10 and 6 percent of all messages, respectively.

Another continuing spam trend, researchers say, is the use of holidays and high profile media events as the bait that lures victims to bogus or malicious sites. Here are a few messages end users can expect to see:

--Valentine's Spam--Procrastinating romantics can expect to see a Valentine's Day spam that entices with the message "Get your Valentine's gift bag from ghd." When the image is clicked, the user will see a message that says "We're sorry, the offer is not available in your area." The message then redirects victims to another phishing site.

--IRS Spam--Honest U.S. Citizens should be wary this tax season with a new IRS phish currently in circulation. The official-looking message, which appears to be from the U.S. Treasury Department, explains that the recipient is owed a tax refund. The e-mail encourages the user to click the URL and then enter social security, credit card numbers and other personal information in order to receive the money. "They're going to be prone to resolve this quickly," said Bowers. "Everyone has a certain amount of fear of not doing their taxes right."

-- Google abuse continues to rise. The report also found that spammers have found new ways to introduce the spam domain directly into the "Search String" when conducting Google searches. When the URL is clicked, users open up the spam domain instead of search results.

--Europeans will be treated to spam that is uniquely their own. Recent messages have offered Italians the opportunity to work from home just two to four hours a week. All they have to do is fill out an application that contains bank account information.

Spammers have also enticed with quick-fix solutions to European visa problems that promise to get around the bureaucratic red tape. And while Russian porn spam has been around forever, a new campaign offers e-mail recipients to text their registration information via SMS in order to receive unlimited porn.