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|28-11-06, 11:45 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Nov 2005
Criminal gangs causing UK spam surge
Criminal gangs causing UK spam surge
Criminal gangs using hijacked computers are behind a surge in unwanted emails peddling sex, drugs and stock tips in Britain.
The number of spam messages has tripled since June and now accounts for as many as nine out of 10 emails sent worldwide, according to US email security company Postini.
As Christmas approaches, the daily trawl through in-boxes clogged with offers of fake Viagra, loans and sex aids is tipped to take even longer.
"Email systems are overloaded or melting down trying to keep up with all the spam," said Dan Druker, a vice president at Postini.
His company has detected seven billion spam emails worldwide in November compared with 2.5 billion in June. Spam in Britain has risen by 50 percent in the last two months alone, according to internet security company SurfControl.
The US, China and Poland are the top sources of spam, data from security firm Marshal suggests. About 200 gangs are behind 80 percent of unwanted emails, according to Spamhaus, a body that tracks the problem.
Experts blame the rise in spam on computer programs that hijack millions of home computers to send emails.
These "zombie networks", also called botnets, can link 100,000 home computers without their owners' knowledge. They are leased to gangs who use their huge "free" computing power to send millions of emails with relative anonymity.
While "Trojan horse" programs that invade computers have been around for years, they are now more sophisticated, written by professionals rather than bored teenagers.
"Before, it was about showing off, now it's about ripping people off," said SurfControl's Harnish Patel.
Spam costs firms up to $1,000 a year per employee in lost productivity and higher computing bills, according to research published last year.
Home computer users are at risk from emails that ask them to reveal their bank details, a practice known as phishing.
The latest programs mutate to avoid detection and send fewer emails from each machine. Fast broadband internet connections, which are always connected, help the spammers.
The gangs send millions of emails, so they only need a fraction of people to reply to make a profit.
"This is a constant game of cat and mouse," said Mark Sunner, chief technology officer at MessageLabs, an email security company. "The bad guys will not stand still."
They disguise words to try to outfox filters searching for telltale words. So, Viagra would become V1@gra.
When antispam experts clamped down on this, the spammers began to send messages embedded in a graphic instead of plain text. It is harder for filters to scan pictures. Random extracts from classic books are often included to confuse filters looking for keywords.
Antispam laws have had mixed results. The first US convictions came last year, while Britain has yet to charge anyone under 2003 antispam legislation.
It is difficult to fight spam because the problem crosses international borders, said a spokesman for the UK Information Commissioner's Office, the body that enforces the law.
Some believe laws and filters won't defeat spam. It will only end when people stop buying diet pills, herbal highs and sexual performance enhancers, said Dave Rand, of Internet security firm Trend Micro.
"The products they are selling by spam are exactly the same products that they sold in the Middle Ages," he said. "This really is a human problem, not a computer problem."
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