Hackers and spammers preparing for holiday season warns MessageLabs

A new Intelligence report from MessageLabs has warned that the intensity of seasonal spamming and malware is on the increase. Internet users should expect a whole host of malicious emails themed around Christmas, Halloween and other popular events. In addition, the report contains troubling evidence suggesting that spammers are running pre-emptive campaigns for events in 2010, including Valentine’s Day and the South African World Cup.

Phishing sites have also seen a shift in focus. UK customers have been targeted by fake sites claiming to offer tax rebates from HM Revenue and Customs. Tax-based phishing was up by 70% in October according to the report and on October 13th, HMRC phishing emails accounted for 81% of all UK spam. Other phishing efforts were largely centred around pharmaceutical-based products and software.

The Symantec-owned MessageLabs published statistics showing that in excess of 3000 new sites were being created by spammers every day, with some 500 million daily spam emails sent by various botnets. October also saw an increase in the number of emails with attached malware stored in a ZIP file, rather than a link to a site containing the malware. This practice had become less common in recent months, but appears to be on the rise once more.

MessageLabs’ Paul Wood explained the key findings of the report, outlining the ever changing methods of spammers and phishing sites, which are now targeting webmail services and social networking sites. It is the prolific use of email addresses as a means of authentication on a variety of sites such as eBay and Facebook that makes these such desirable targets for attackers. Mr Wood also explained that the increase in spam and phishing around the holiday season has as much to do with criminal competition as with increased online spending.

Online security provider McAfee Inc. has also recently released its quarterly report. This highlighted the problems caused by new peer to peer file sharing sites promoting the spread of malware. This has been exacerbated by the closure of The Pirate Bay, a popular file sharing site, leaving a gap in the market for phony sites which seduce those looking for pirated material.

Increased vigilance and care in the run-up to Christmas is clearly going to be important in remaining safe online.

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