New Brunswick is ‘spam capital’ of Canada

New Brunswick’s dramatic coastal scenery and legendary hospitality appear to have attracted highly unwelcome visitors of late.

Cyber criminals have turned New Brunswick into the spam capital of the country, according to a report released this week by security firm Symantec Corp. of Mountain View, Calif.

But another security company — Q1 Labs that has R&D labs in New Brunswick — believes it’s the province’s world-class connectivity that’s drawing all the unwanted traffic.

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It’s unlikely spam incidents will severely affect operations of existing businesses in the province, or deter other firms from setting up shop in New Brunswick, said John Burnham, vice-president, corporate marketing at Q1.

As much as 92 per cent of e-mails received in New Brunswick qualified as spam, according to the report by Symantec Hosted Services, an anti-spam software and services subsidiary of Symantec.

That rate surpasses the Canadian average of 88 per cent, as well as the global rate of 89.3 per cent.

Interestingly other maritime provinces — Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador — rank low on the list of spam targets compiled by Symantec.

New Brunswick was followed by: British Columbia (89 per cent); Saskatchewan (88.7 per cent); Alberta (87.6 per cent); Ontario (97.5 per cent); Manitoba (87 per cent); Nova Scotia (87 per cent); Quebec (87 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador (86 per cent).

Spammers, however, are not at all playing favourites, says Paul Wood, an intelligence senior analyst at MessageLabs, a provider of online messaging security services acquired by Symantec in 2008.

“The thing to keep in mind is spammers don’t really care what province you live in,” he said.

Wood noted that percentages of spam incidents among Canadian provinces were actually not that different.

Cyber criminals operating botnets, he explained, are more concerned with spreading spam over areas that accommodate susceptible targets.

For instance, regions with a greater proportion of small and medium-sized businesses and firms in the hospitality or service industries tend to get spammed more than others, the Symantec analyst told ITBusiness.ca

“Our research indicates the hospitality industry in New Brunswick was a key driver in the spam rate for the province.”  

Wood said service-oriented companies, such as resorts, hotels and restaurants, tend to communicate more over the Internet with suppliers, partners and customers, and therefore receive a greater volume of spam than other businesses.

SMBs, he said, are also likely to have less financial resources and manpower to pour into security measures that fend off spam.  

Wood rued the immense damage caused by spam – depletion of network bandwidth,  waste of processing power, and erosion of employee productivity.

Spam e-mail can lure workers into entering sites that infect their computers with malware designed to steal personal or sensitive corporate information or turn machines into botnets.

Already, as much as 90 per cent of the world’s spam is generated by no less than five to six million compromised computers, according to Symantec. These botnets spread and estimated 120 billion spam e-mails each day.

Wired and wonderful

New Brunswick’s hyper connectivity may have much to do with the higher percentage of spam in the province ,compared to other Canadian provinces, according to Burnham of Q1 Labs.

He said New Brunswick is widely acknowledged as the only province in North America with 100 per cent high speed broadband connectivity.

This, he said, results in a more vigorous Internet traffic, which also provides more opportunity for spammers.

“The more online traffic you have, the more likely some of that traffic will include a bit of unsavory content.”  

Jonathan Downie, manager of knowledge industries and innovation at Business New Brunswick, agrees.

“It’s kind of a back-handed compliment,” Downie joked of the unexpected recognition of being the most spammed province in the country.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and effort developing our connectivity and perhaps one of the consequences of reaching out to the world is that sometimes some nasty parts reach back,” he said.

Downie, whose department deals with development of the tech industry, believes SMBs in New Brunswick are no less secure than their counterparts across the country.

New Brunswick’s high-speed connectivity as well as its growing pool of IT talent attracts many tech businesses to the province, according to Burnham of Q1 Labs.

In recent years, he said, New Brunswick has successfully positioned itself as an alternative location for young IT professionals. The province also has an aggressive 21st century education plan to cultivate tech proficiency among local students.

“We found New Brunswick to be a very fertile ground for growing our research and development because it has a very rich IT talent pool,” Burnham said.

Like Wood of Symantec, Burnham realizes that spam numbers between the provinces are not that wide apart. “There’s less than a four per cent variance off the mean. I don’t think it will damage large corporations or SMBs in the province.”

“We’re not thinking of relocating, not ever,” he said.

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