Lavasoft News - September 2007

Spam Surge Inundates Inboxes

Most of us are well aware that e-mail is a method of choice for many malware attacks and scam techniques. But the e-mail scourge that none of us look forward to seeing in our inboxes has been making an onslaught like never before.

E-mail security firm Postini recently tracked the largest spam attack followed to date, a PDF spam deluge that increased the total spam count by 445 percent in a single day.

This particular scam involved a “pump and dump” ploy; recipients were sent PDF attachments, prompting them to buy stock in a small firm called Prime Time Group, Inc, setting off an artificial inflation of its stock price.

According to a recent EWeek article, the spam surge’s sudden strike and subsequent plunge was due to the work of botnets. Botnets, networks of zombie computers that are the source of many types of online threats, can be used to spread vast amounts of spam.

The volume of spam reportedly saw a 53 percent jump from the day before the attack started to the day it launched on August 7, Adam Swidler, a representative at Postini told EWeek.

“Why it stopped is a mystery, but more than likely it wound down because it was a spam run being conducted on a rented bot network,” according to Swidler’s statement in the article.

The attack, researchers say, has likely been launched by the infamous “Storm Worm” botnet. What began this past January as spam promising news reports of European storms has since been seen presenting itself as a greeting card from family members. A widespread spam attack in July used the tactic of concealing computer viruses in links to e-greeting cards.

According to the Washington Post, Postini saw about 275 million greeting card spam messages in the first 3 weeks in July. That same month, the so-called Storm Worm was said to represent about 30 percent of all spam, according to reports.

Whatever the subject, the intent remains the same: to con computer users to click malicious links or open attachments in their e-mail to carry out a scam.

The most recent spam trends have seen less of the traditional image spam, in favor of PDF, Excel, and Zip file attachments. Spammers have turned their attention in different directions in order to evade filters and make their way into your inbox, disguised as a trusted attachment. Image files are easier for spam filters to stop, while PDF files bypass many existing e-mail filters.

“PDF spam is the latest trick the spammers have come up with to evade traditional anti-spam filters,” Amir Lev, president of e-mail security provider Commtouch said in a company press release. “It took a bit of time, but some anti-spam engines eventually developed solutions to block the image-based spam that plagued inboxes last year. In response, the spammers quickly utilized their zombie infrastructure to progress into sending spam in a different format.”

While it may already feel that our inboxes are being flooded with spam and scams, by most measures, the prognosis is that junk and deceptive e-mails will only get worse.

To avoid e-mail scams and spam attacks, make sure to use a spam filter, in addition to updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software. When in doubt about an e-mail, it’s always best to stay on the cautious side: do not open e-mails from unknown senders, and verify the validity of links or attachments with the sender before viewing. Being aware of threats is always an important step to prevention – be proactive in reading reports and publications on the latest spam techniques.

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Lavasoft Privacy Toolbox
The risk associated with using the Internet, like spam, viruses, spyware and phishing, remains high, according to Consumer Reports. In the first half of 2007, spyware infections prompted 850,000 U.S. households to replace their computers, according to a recent survey. One out of every 11 surveyed had a major, often costly problem due to spyware. The economic fallout per incident was averaged at $100 (U.S.), with damage totaling $1.7 billion.

Source: Consumer Reports, State of the Net 2007
Term of the Month
A pump and dump scam is a spam technique that uses misleading messages to create hype around targeted stock – usually “penny stocks” that sell for less than $1 U.S. per share. Spammers acquire the stock before sending their spam, and then “dump” their shares after share prices have inflated. The result: investors are fooled into losing money, while the spammers make off with a profit. Read more about recent spam trends in our “Spam Surge” article.

Tech Tips
Every time you surf the Net, your browser keeps track of all of your online steps. With Ad-Aware 2007, we’ve given you an easy solution to remove all traces of your Internet browsing from your system, keeping spyware from documenting surf patterns and targeting you with adware and spyware. TrackSweep, one of the new privacy features in Ad-Aware 2007, gives you the option to clean your cache, cookies, history, last typed URLs, and browser tabs from Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera, in one clean sweep! To use TrackSweep, from the “Tools & Plug-Ins” tab in Ad-Aware 2007’s user interface, select “TrackSweep” and then choose the items you want cleaned. TrackSweep is a feature in Ad-Aware 2007 Free, Plus and Pro.
Helpful Homepage
The Anti-Phishing Working Group is an organization committed to wiping out online scams by focusing on eliminating fraud and identity theft that results from phishing, pharming, and e-mail spoofing. Visit its website to report phishing attempts, pharming sites, and crimeware, or browse the informative resources section to brush up on the latest threats.
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