Spammers continue to seek ‘work-arounds’ to anti-spam measures

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The percentage of e-mail that is spam has increased steadily and predictably as spammers continue to foil anti-spam measures.

According to e-mail security company IronPort’s Threat Operations Center , in 2004, 68% of e-mail was spam; this year, the number has risen to 72%. In 2006, more than 80% of e-mail will be spam.

“Spammers and people involved in e-mail fraud are a pretty smart bunch and are constantly developing work-arounds to spam filters and encryption technologies,” said Shar VanBoskirk, consulting analyst at Forrester Research.

Spammer tactics continue to change. IronPort measured a 200% increase in so-called “blended threats,” which are spam messages that contain either a virus or a phishing attack.

“The sophistication of the attacks is going up,” said Ambika Gadre, director of information security services at IronPort. “If most people have solutions in place architected for single threats, then [the spam] has more of a chance of making it past that. The more malware in that threat, the better results they get.”

Ironport indicated there also has been a 100% increase in just the last three months of e-mail-borne spyware.

Money, not surprisingly, is the big driver. “From their perspective, e-mail fraud, or spam, is a very lucrative business, so they are going to spend a considerable effort coming up with ways to get their messages through any existing recipient ‘protection,’ ” VanBoskirk said.

Some spammers are moving away from targeting major ISPs, such as AOL and Time Warner’s RoadRunner, and instead are focusing on e-mailing corporations and individual users working with smaller networks.

“Most attackers care about deliverability,” Gadre said. “Major ISPs’ [anti-spam] defenses are pretty strong.”

She added that the major ISPs have also brought a fair amount of litigation against spammers. “The spammers will take the path of least resistance,” she said. “It’s in their interest to expand the attacks out to other areas. There’s less of a chance of being tracked.”

E-mail experts caution marketers to be not only vigilant, but relevant as well in order to keep deliverability rates as high as possible.

“Before this news, marketers’ best approach to insuring consistently high deliverability rates was to make sure their messages were relevant and valuable to their users,” VanBoskirk said. “This is still absolutely the case. All the spam filters and authentication codes in the world won’t keep a marketer on a user’s ‘white list’ if the e-mail itself is irrelevant to the user.”

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