The Perils of Spam

By Matthew Harwood

The Internet security firm McAfee had a novel idea: recruit 50 people from 10 countries to surf the Internet unprotected for 30 days to see how much spam they could attract and the damage done.

Two days ago, the company released the results of its S.P.A.M. (Spammed Persistently All Month) Experiment, which describes a more sophisticated and international spammer that uses psychological tricks to steal identities, personal information, and cash. Newer spamming techniques include spam e-mails in local languagues armed with cultural nuances and more targeted strategies to avoid detection.

After 30 days, the experiment's participants received a total of 104,000 spam e-mails or 2,096 messages each, which equals about 70 e-mails a day.

According to a statement released by McAfee:

Many of the spam messages received were phishing e-mails; e-mails which pose as a trustworthy source to criminally acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and bank account details. Other e-mails carried viruses and many allowed malware to be silently installed on the computers by persuading participants to surf unsafe Web sites. A number of participants noted a decrease in their computers' processing speeds, as well as an increased number of pop-ups.

The results, said McAfee, show the inextricable link between spam and cybercrime.

Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs, said the participants experienced significant computer slowdown by the end of the experiment due to malware installation.

The experiment also found that the spam capital of the world continued to be the United States but emerging economies such as Brazil and Mexico found themselves in the top five of the "Global Spam League." McAfee says this is more evidence that spammers' acitivities are growing in scope internationally.

McAfee says the experiment gave them "valuable insight" into socially engineered spam e-mails, which prey on a person's emotions to convince them to reveal confidential information.

Dave DeWalt, chief executive officer and president of McAfee, said spam is an "immense problem" and we are well past the ability to solve it; now it's just a matter of managing it.




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