According to analysis conducted by the Eleven Research Team, spam volume in February rose by a notable 92.2% compared to January, showing strong and consistent growth of unwanted and dangerous email throughout the month. Some of the particularly dangerous growth categories included a rise in phishing levels by 69.8%, while emails carrying known malware grew by 156.9%. Email-related virus outbreaks meanwhile skyrocketed in volume by 49.8%.
The numbers are surprising considering that spam volume plunged in December and January. In December, it dropped by 40.9% and in January, by another 15.8%.
However, the Eleven Research team observed some clues as to the coming spam tsunami: in a February report it found that there was a significant increase in phishing levels at the beginning of 2013. In January, the number of phishing emails grew by 72.5% compared to December 2012. To put in perspective, almost one in 300 emails was a phishing message in January. The online payment service PayPal kept the dubious honor of remaining the number one phishing target, while country-specific phishing attacks also continued to increase.
Virus emails also rose in that period. The volume of known and new malware grew by 27% in January. Together, their share of the total email volume reached 1.6%: that means that one in every sixty emails was transporting malware in January.
Geographically, the distribution of the 10 biggest spammers as of last month is comparatively spread out: four came from Asia, three from Eastern Europe, two from South America and one from North America. All of the Western European countries have disappeared from the list, Eleven noted.
The US meanwhile has climbed back to the top of the list of spam-generating countries. In considering levels within its home market of Germany alone, Eleven Research found in its February report that the US generated 10.6% of the total spam volume in the German-speaking region, followed by India (6.9%) and Romania (6.6%).
The majority of spam, phishing, and malware campaigns are now country specific. For example, of all the e-mails sent to German recipients, the largest spam and malware waves, and the third-largest phishing wave were all written in German. Several German-language spam waves were also in the top 10.
The firm also found that “classic” spam themes are trending downwards – for example, the share of casino spam, still the most popular spam theme, fell from 34.8% to 22.9% between November 2012 and January 2013. Pharma spam rose slightly from a record low of 7.9% to 12.9%. Fake luxury products remained at 4.4%. The “winner”: dating spam at 18.6%.
At the same time, the range of spam themes has clearly broadened. One large spam campaign was launched in the name of a technical website for strawberry cultivation, for example.