Every 27th email in an Indian's inbox contains a virus, trojan or other form of malware, making our country continually the hardest hit in terms of virus activity.
The seemingly innocuous spam, however, which continues to account for roughly 70 per cent of all e-mail messages on the Internet (over 90 per cent of people in India receive spam) is a bigger threat, indicates a recent report by security firm MessageLabs.
Why is it so? Spam clogs your email box, slows down company networks besides introducing phishing and other threats. Worse, it mutates every 12 minutes with nearly 2,000 unique content changes making it extremely difficult for spam filters to cope, according to Ironport, a spam-filtering firm.
"Around 1,500 unique domains are used. They change every 15 minutes and the spam source can be traced to nearly 100,000 infected PCs (zombies) in 119 countries," Patrick Peterson, VP Technology, Ironport, told Business Standard.
Spam levels are expected to continue to rise till the end of 2006. "Cyber criminals are out in full force and utilising the holiday season to their advantage," cautioned Mark Sunner, chief technology officer, MessageLabs, in his November report.
And there's more bad news - worldwide spam has doubled to 60 million per day from last year's figure of 30 million, according to Peterson.
This despite the assurance of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who when speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2004, said he could crack spam by 2006. Wishful thinking eh!
While the most widely-recognised form of spam is e-mail spam, there's spam in areas like instant messaging, Usenet newsgroups, search engines, blogs and mobile phones too. The barrier to entry is so low that spammers are tempted to try these routes.
"Much of the increase can be attributed to more sophisticated forms of image spam," explains Patrick Peterson, VP Technology, Ironport.
Image spam is a technique which spammers use to "call to action" as part of an embedded file attachment (like a .gif or .jpeg) rather than in the body of the email. Most spam filters do not identify these images as spam and hence they escape detection, he explains.
For instance, an image spam may invite you to invest in a stock - a joint study by researchers at Purdue University and Oxford University this May revealed that spam stock cons work.
Enough recipients buy the stock that spammers can make a 5-6 per cent return in two days. "Image spam increased fourfold from last year and now represents 25 to 45 per cent of all junk e-mail, depending on the day," says Peterson.
Spammers frequently use false names, addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information to set up "disposable" accounts at various Internet service providers.
They, notes Peterson, hide themselves or their operations in countries where law enforcement is lax, from Russia and Eastern Europe to China and Nigeria.Moreover, some spammers can churn out 200 million or more messages a day, and because less than one per cent of those need to bring responses from gullible, click-happy users to turn handsome profits, there is little incentive to stop.