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US phishing attacks decline in third quarter

The messaging and web security service vendor added in its report that, for the second quarter in a row, there were spikes in email-borne viruses not caught by major anti-virus engines.

This, Commtouch said, differentiates the results of these two quarters from the rather consistently low numbers seen during the previous 18 months.

According to Commtouch, its quarterly trend reports are based on the analysis of over two billion email messages and internet transactions seen daily in its cloud-based global detection centers.

Delving into the research reveals that an average of 332 000 zombies were newly activated each day for the purpose of malicious activity and that spam levels averaged 83% of all email traffic throughout the quarter, peaking at 97% in July and bottoming out at 71% in August.

Interestingly, email-borne malware that bypassed traditional anti-virus engines peaked every 11 to 13 days during the second half of the quarter, dominated by Mal-Bredo A and Mal Behav-340, of which over 10 000 distinct variants were distributed.

Pharmacy spam also returned to the top spot with 68% of all spam messages. Last quarter's top spam subject, enhancements, fell from 46.2% to 11% of all spam messages during the quarter.

Commtouch claims that comparing phishing data between organizations is problematic because of the varying methods used to gather and compile data.

For this reason, the company said, a broad, multi-vendor view of web security trends, such as through the Commtouch security alliance, draws the most accurate picture of the internet threatscape.

Asaf Geriner, vice president of web security with Commtouch, said that it is not only the absolute number of phishing attacks which is important when examining phishing data, but also the sophistication of such attacks that causes data to vary from company to company.

"Small, targeted attacks can cause much more financial damage than less sophisticated large scale ones", he explained.

"In our examination of spam messages which lure end users to phishing sites, we see that there is not only great fluctuation in the volumes of attacks, but also great differences in the quality of them, which has a direct link to the likelihood of the attack to cause damage."

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