Spam gets sophisticated, says McAfee

McAfee's recent experiment reveals the shocking extent of spam in daily lives.

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By  Sean Robson Published  July 1, 2008

Spam is evolving and utilising more languages and cultural nuances as it becomes more difficult to detect and the most popular spam subject remained financial offers, including pre-approved loans and credit cards.

These were just some of the results of McAfee's S.P.A.M (Spammed Persistently All Month) experiment in which 50 people from around the world surfed the web unprotected for 30 days.

Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs, said: "Many of our participants noticed that their computers were slowing down, which means that while they were surfing, unbeknownst to them, websites were installing malware.

As part of the experiment participants from ten countries were encouraged to visit sites and locations that would usually be avoided. This was done in order to discover how much spam they would attract and what the effects on their machines would be. The ten users received over 104,000 spam e-mails in the course of the experiment.

McAfee researchers surmised from their subsequent analysis that ‘spammers' remain extremely active and they are becoming more sophisticated in the way they access contact details, identity information and even cash.

The type of spam e-mails received included phishing e-mails, viruses as well as malware. In just 30 days there was quite a noticeable change in the system performance of the user's computers and, according to the company, this was a reflection of the amount of malware that was being installed without their knowledge.

S.P.A.M also showed a move away from mass spam e-mails towards specifically targeted attacks. Foreign language and social engineering are two areas in which participants received a larger than anticipated number of spam e-mails.

Dave DeWalt, chief executive officer and president of McAfee concluded: "I think we can see from the experiment that spam is undeniably linked to cyber crime, however it is an immense problem and it's simply not going away. It's no longer a question of ‘solving' it, but one of ‘managing' it."

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