In Q3 2011, the percentage of fraudulent emails in spam traffic increased twenty times, rising from 0.1% last quarter to 2% of all spam traffic in Q3. The quantity of fraudulent messages is striking, but so is the variety of social engineering techniques deployed. On one level, attackers used tried-and-trusted tricks, sending email offers on behalf of online games to steal usernames and passwords, or fake notifications from major organizations which then link to a phishing resource. Multi-stage attacks on a new level are now becoming more common. For example, messages invited recipients to take part in a survey and win money for doing so. Users followed the link, found themselves on a page with a customer satisfaction survey form and filled it in. After submitting the survey, they were redirected to a further form asking for their full credit card details in order to process the promised payment. Of course, the information was likely to be used to clean out accounts, rather than pay any cash.
The third quarter saw the volume of phishing emails increase very slightly and account for just 0.03% of all mail traffic. The share of attacks on Facebook increased by five percentage points which meant this social network climbed from 5th to 3rd in the rating of most popular phishing targets. In previous spam reports we have mentioned how phishers have lost interest in traditional banks, and this time, for the first time ever, we saw just two banks feature in the Top 10 in Q3 2011. This is because the theft of real money is more risky than stealing virtual money for phishers. Moreover, both approaches are almost equally lucrative.
Volume of Spam Dropping
Spam levels fell steadily throughout the quarter, except for a spike in the last week of September when the share reached 82.1%. “Despite the decrease in the amount of spam in mail traffic its content has become more dangerous. The average percentage of spam with malicious attachments reached a record-breaking high of 5.3% throughout Q3. This spike, and a similar rise in adult content spam, could be the result of the summer holiday season and the ‘second wave’ of the global economic crisis. During the summer slowdown, and prompted by the uncertain financial climate, spammers look for scams that can keep them in business,” says Darya Gudkova, Head of Content Analysis and Research at Kaspersky Lab.
Think before opening attachments
Increased levels of spam with malicious attachments continued to threaten users in Q3 2011. The spammers deployed standard tricks to coax users into opening attachments, and used some new, more sophisticated methods. Among the latter, it was common to send emails with alarming subjects, an apparently encrypted text and a malicious attachment. The fraudsters were hoping that users would choose to open the attachment in the hope of making sense of the unintelligible email.
Overall, in Q3 2011 the average proportion of emails with malicious attachments increased by 1.17 percentage points, reaching 5.03%. As in the previous two quarters, Russian and US mail traffic carried a sizeable proportion of malicious attachments (9.8% and 9.5% respectively). Britain came third with 7.3% of all detected malicious attachments, up 1.1 percentage points on the previous quarter.
Spammer methods and tricks: hiding the evidence
2011’s major trend continued in Q3: more and more spam is coming from developing countries. India (+0.7 percentage points), Indonesia (+4.7 percentage points) and Brazil (+0.8 percentage points) were the top three sources of spam. Q3 2011 saw considerable shifts in the distribution of spam by category. In Q3 education-related spam went down sharply (-39.9 percentage points) compared to the previous quarter. There were also declines in other categories of commissioned spam, such as Travel and Tourism (-4.3 percentage points) and Other Goods and Services (-1.6 percentage points). In their place, we saw a growth in spam distributed via partner programs: Medications and Health-Related Goods and Services, and Adult Content spam.
The full version of spam activity report for Q3 2011 is available at: http://www.securelist.com.