Valentine’s Day spam worse than ever

Employees in companies without solid anti-spam tools likely dread Valentine’s Day.

That’s not because they’re lonely – but because of the increased security risks and lost productivity from unwanted e-mails, says a new report.

E-mail spam was worse than ever over the past three months and showed no signs of letting up in January, according to latest The State of Spam report published by Cupertino, Calif.-based security products vendor Symantec Corp.

Holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day are among the busiest days of the year for spammers.

Spam accounted for nearly eight out of every 10 e-mails in January – a 10 per cent increase compared to just one year ago.

This year, spam messages didn’t drop as usual after the Christmas season.

Instead, they targeted last-minute male shoppers with Valentine messages, says Dermot Harnett, principal analyst with Symantec’s anti-spam engineering team.

“Around the holidays, we do see an increase,” he says. “When you receive a Valentines’ message, you may be more inclined to look at it.”

One recent spam message told men: “Get your Valentine’s gift bag from ghd” and listed products that sounded rather pampering.

One item was an “opulence face mask.”

Ironically, men who clicked on the ad were just directed to a single’s dating Web site.

But workers shouldn’t have to put up with wading through junk mail at the office, experts say.
In fact, your network’s resources shouldn’t be burdened with spam filtering, says Peter Firstbrook, research director at analyst firm Gartner Inc. Otherwise, he says, your hardware could be bogged down with this task.

“What you need is a [product] that can get these things before they come to your network, or never accept a message from a spammer.”

Even one opened connection to a spammer can result in 100,000 messages being pushed through.

Firstbrook’s recommendation: stopping spam at the source – which can cut two-thirds of it before your filters even kick in.

Services that use reputation networks to test IP addresses are an effective means at doing this, Firstbrook says.

For instance, he says, two Calif.-based e-mail security services providers – Secure Computing Corp. and Iron Port – offer popular products that use this method.

“They have hundreds of nodes around the network from their customers,” the analyst explains. “When an IP is identified as sending spam, they say ‘A-ha, that address is spamming and I’m going to tell everyone about it.’”

Spam costs businesses time and money, and security companies are literally working around the clock to figure out how to keep it out of Inboxes everywhere.

Symantec’s Harnett says his team is constantly looking at samples of spam messages and figure out how to weed them out from desirable e-mails.

They look for “things like obfuscation in the message header, where the message came from, the links in the body.”

But he says it can be a tricky balance between blocking too many valuable e-mails and letting through too much junk.

Symantec says its Mail Security 8300 engine is more than 97 per cent effective in sorting through spam.

The security firm announced the Virtual Edition of their software to counter new threats from high levels of spam, according to a press release.

Companies using the software manage their filters through a centralized control console.

On days when more spam is expected – such as Valentine’s Day – the filter can be set higher. On days when less is expected, it can be set lower and resources freed up.

Spam isn’t just increasing in volume, spammers are becoming more clever.

They tap in to current affairs and holidays as a way to grab the attention of naïve e-mail readers, Symantec’s Harnett says.

“The more spam they send, the more likely someone will click a link,” he says. “They don’t care about your feelings; they are motivated by money.”

This year businesses will spend money to block spam, too.

Prices range from between $3 to $20 per user per year, according to Firstbrook.

Other strange attempts to attract clicks in January included:

  • An ad promising to “naturally improve your genes” and cure obesity, depression, arthritis, high cholesterol, and impotence.
  • A Russian message promoting a device that allows the user to convert manure into bio-fuel. The email claimed money could be made from selling the fuel to friends and family.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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