Thursday, January 7, 2010

Spam trend


With almost more than half of the emails being reported as unsolicited. Spam tops the list as one of the most bothersome internet irritations. And despite the evolution of spam filters, spam blockers and other anti spam softwares, the negative effects are still felt by people and businesses. It is estimated to have sent 14.5 billion spam messages per day.  According to a research conducted by Palo Alto, spam costs business around $20.5 billion annually and future predictions seems to be around $198 billion in next four years if spam continues to flourish at its current rate.  Figure below shows the spam by  country of origin (source: M86 Security)

Spam Definition:

In order to effectively combat spam we first need to know what spam is. According to definition , Spam is an anonymous(spoofed sender address to hide the real sender), unsolicited (users unwillingness to accept) bulk email (Sent in mass measure). IT is important to make it clear that the words 'advertising' and 'commercial'are not used as perfect spam definitions.

How spam works:

Spammers use advanced programs and technologies in a dedicated way to generate and send spam in billions and billions of spam message every day. Spam overall life cycle is a five stage process, knowing about those stage may help in preparing to not to be a victim in future.

Stage One: Gathering Information:

First stage in spam cycle is in collecting information and creating a database of email address with different categories (geographical location, different accounts, personal entries, others).  Methods used to collecting email address include scanning public resources like forums, websites, chat rooms, who-is databases. Stealing databases from web services and ISPs,.
Created databases address will then be verified by test mail. Testing is to make sure whether the users are reading the spam or not. Spam usually has images and if a message is opened then image will automatically be downloaded and logged in server and thus spammers will make sure that email address is valid.

Stage 2: Choosing the delivery method

Now its time to deliver the spam to mass users. They deliver in millions and more widely used are  following three methods. First is direct mailing from rented servers, this option proves no good to them as anti-spam organisations are monitoring mass mailing and black listing them. Second is to use proxies or open relays but this option is costly and also time-consuming as spammers need to search the internet for vulnerable servers and then the server has to be penetrated. Spammers can't use the same proxy or relays for long as after a successful mailing, these servers will be detected and blacklisted.
Third and most current trend is to create or buy bot networks. A botnet is a collection of computers, also known as zombies or robots, that can all be controlled remotely by one person. This control is achieved by installing malicious software on a PC via illicit means, such as a virus or email attachment.
Step 3: Actual spam message
Sending millions of messages within a limited time frame requires right technology and spammers are using specialized programs to be able to send mail via infected machines, create dynamic texts, dynamic images and so on..
Basic and traditional way of sending spam is to include a random text string, words or invisible text with either beginning or end of the message body.  It is possible to embed an invisible test within an HTML message and send it to email address but current day spam filters are with inbuilt HTML encoders smart enough to flag those emails as spam.
Some other means are by graphical spam (text in graphics format), dynamic text (same text in many ways. a smart ways to confuse anti spam filter program).
Spam life cycle overall involves team of different specialists, professional programmers, virus writers and business mans. Each playing a part in spam cycle.

Ways to prevent spam:

There are certain measures along with using a spam filter or spam blocker that you can take to prevent this spam message to reach your inbox. Some of them are:
  1. Try having more than one email address. Use one for personal and confidential reasons and others for day-to-day use like subscription and other stuff which are not your primary concern.
  2. Try to hide your email address. Say if you have a website or forum and you need to use your email address, you can try using for example: brainfold dot security at Gmail DOTcom instead of brainfold.security@gmail.com
  3. Make sure your spam filter and your email services are on highest setting
  4. In public forums and chat messages or wherever you need to register, try having a username instead of email address. Use your secondary email address for this purposes.
  5. Never reply to or click on any links in a spam message. Before you get to click any link check details like sender name, domain address, message relevance. If any of these sound irrelevant to you try not to click the email link.
  6. Read your message as text, reading message as text other than HTML prevents you from accidentally clicking the email links which may include virus, ad-ware or spyware. (remember 80% of email flying are spam).
  7. If you are using Outlook you can preview your messages in a preview screen before actually opening them.
  8. View message header: Analyse the header information, pay attention to the FROM and REPLY TO addresses. If the reply to discuss is not same as from address then it may be a spam.
  9. Forwarded emails tend to list the email address of every one who has forwarded the message, along with the email address of every one its forwarded to. So it's an easy target for spammers to get access to bulk of email address. Unless it is important to do so try not to use send email with bulk email address.
IF you would to know more about spam-ware and ad-ware please follow the below references

Conclusion:

Spam market is growing exponentially with growing value of several hundred million dollars annually. Entire spam cycles are run by professionals in-house taking advantage of our  ignorance in protecting our own information.
Though it is illegal to collect and misuse others personal information due to massive growth in technology it is not an easy task for government, law enforcement agencies or info sec professionals to protect every single data from prying eyes. So it is our responsibility to be conscious in protecting our personal informations. Money flowing in spam industry is good enough to keep the spam cycle  going and potentially enabling people to take more risk.
If you would like any more topics to be discusses feel free to send me a comment. Thanks again for your time..