Spam set to outnumber genuine e-mails

Viruses, spam and malicious Internet scams transmitted by e-mail all grew sharply in 2002, posing a threat to the smooth running of worldwide e-mail systems, according to security vendor MessageLabs Ltd.

The problem of spam, or unsolicited e-mail, has become so bad that the number of spam e-mails being received will exceed the number of legitimate e-mails next year, MessageLabs said.

In its review of e-mail threats for 2002, MessageLabs reported that spam already accounts for 30 per cent of all e-mail, and that figure is set to rise to 50 per cent by July 2003.

But it’s not just ‘innocent’ spam that is on the rise, as e-mail viruses are become more prevalent too. In 2001 one in 380 e-mails was infected; in 2002 that number had risen to one in 212 and again this is likely to increase again for 2003.

Not only are viruses becoming more frequent, they are also getting more virulent, as MessageLabs found that today’s bugs are more technically sophisticated and can expose vulnerabilities in traditional antivirus software. The security firm also saw a sharp increase in the number of blended threats-where spam e-mails are combined with viruses-and Trojan attacks on both companies and individuals.

If you, like us, do your best to delete any spam or suspicious e-mail, you might wonder why people bother with it. But MessageLab’s review also revealed that spam scams can be a lucrative business.

The study found that scams, such as the Nigerian e-mail advance fee con are continuing to proliferate and prosper. This swindle alone is expected to gross CDN$3.12 billion in 2003, making it that country’s second-largest industry.