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Sophos Identifies the Most Prevalent Spam Categories of 2005

  • 04 August, 2005 09:24

Beware: Zombies are playing the stock market

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Sophos, a world leader in protecting businesses against viruses, spyware and spam, has revealed the results of its research into the most prominent spam categories during the first six months of 2005. According to Sophos, while emails advertising medicines and low-interest loans continue to irritate computer users and congest corporate networks, dangerous new categories of spam are growing in prevalence.

The research, compiled by SophosLabs(tm), Sophos's global network of virus and spam analysis centres, shows that the volume of company share price scams -- sometimes known as 'pump-and-dump' schemes -- have increased at an average rate of 10 per cent each month this year.

The top five spam categories from January 2005 through June 2005 were as follows:

1. Medication/pills 41.4%

2. Mortgage 11.1%

3. Adult content 9.5%

4. Share price scams 8.5%

5. Product 8.3%

Other 21.2%

“While pills, potions and mortgages have remained at the top of the chart for the last six months, the rapid growth of share price scams perpetrated by spammers has become a worrying financial threat,” said Rob Forsyth, Managing Director for Sophos Australia and New Zealand.

"Driven by criminal financial incentive, share price scammers have linked up with spammers and their hijacked 'zombie' PC networks to mass email fake information about companies in a bid to manipulate investors and inflate or deflate share prices.”

Forsyth said that the emails containing the faked information would often contain snippets of information from genuine press releases to trick investors and other market observers including in some cases, the media.

Pump and dump stock scam campaigns tend to run for short durations, keeping overall volumes low. Even though some of the information provided may be accurate, the deceptive and unsolicited nature of the messages qualifies them as spam.

Forsyth said, “These charlatans prey on both companies with limited assets and unsophisticated investors to artificially pump up share prices before they then dump their own stock holdings, at significant profits. Ultimately, the share price will fall substantially resulting in investors losing their cash and potentially destroying the unwitting companies.”

The majority of these campaigns employ obfuscation techniques, using word variations such as 'st0ck' or 'stox' rather than ‘stock’ to avoid being caught by spam filters. Messages can arrive in many different formats, such as HTML or plain text, and are almost always sent via hijacked 'zombie' PCs.

"Social engineering through email, where scam artists take advantage of unsophisticated computer users, is on the rise and represents a dangerous trend," said Brian Burke, IDC Research Manager. "Stock scams, combined with traditional phishing techniques, can result in significant financial loss for victims of these swindles."

Sophos recommends that the most effective way for businesses to counter spam and other threats is to adopt a multi-layered defence as well as implement a best practice policy regarding email account usage. Users can also learn how to best minimise the influx of unwanted email by following a few simple guidelines.

For more information on how to avoid spam, please visit: http://www.sophos.com.au/spaminfo/bestpractice/spam.html

To view Sophos spam white papers, please visit: http://www.sophos.com.au/spaminfo/whitepapers/

Graphics of the above top five-category chart can be downloaded here: http://www.sophos.com.au/images/eng/topten/top10spam_jan-june2005.gif http://www.sophos.com.au/images/eng/topten/top10spam_jan-june2005.eps

ends

About Sophos: Sophos is a world leading computer security specialist, protecting customers against viruses, spyware, spam and email policy abuse. Headquartered in the UK, the company produces solutions tailored for organisations of all sizes – from small businesses to global corporations. Sophos is acclaimed for delivering the highest level of customer satisfaction and protection in the industry. The company's products are sold and supported in more than 150 countries and protect more than 35 million users.

Sophos’s regional head office for Australia and New Zealand is in Sydney, with branch offices in Melbourne and Auckland. The company has established an extensive partner network across the region. Sophos has also located one of its four global SophosLabs Research, Development and Analysis Laboratories and its Asia Pacific Technical Centre of Excellence in Sydney to provide global support and engineering services.

http://www.sophos.com.au

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Rob Forsyth (rob.forsyth@sophos.com) is available for comment: +61 2 9409 9100 (tel) +61 2 417 234 176 (mob) +61 2 9409 9191 (fax)

Sophos's press contact at Gotley Nix Evans is: Michael Henderson (sophos@gne.com.au) +61 2 9957 5555 (tel) +61 413 054 738 (mob) +61 2 9957 5575 (fax)

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