The number of junk e-mails being sent has dropped dramatically over the past few months. Bad news if you are looking for certain performance enhancing drugs perhaps, although most e-mail users will welcome the news.
Leading internet security firm Symantec detected around 200 billion spam messages being sent each day in August, but this fell to just 50 billion in December. But what is the reason for this 75% reduction over the past five months?
Well, quite simply, no one knows.
The vast majority of spam is sent by networks of infected computers known as botnets. One of these, known as Rustock, was at its peak responsible for around 48% of all spam sent globally. But this fell to just 0.5% in December according to Symantec. And two other leading spammers, known as Lethic and Xarvester, have also reduced their output considerably.
There have been huge drops before, but usually because the botnets had been disrupted by anti-spam measures, and this does not appear to be the case this time.
So have the spammers given up? That is perhaps wishful thinking.
It could be that a whole new campaign is about to start. After all, we are all pretty much used to ignoring messages from Nigerian princes by now. And spammers are in the business to make money, so if their current strategy isn’t working then they will look to try something else.
There have been signs that spammers are looking to alternative methods to e-mail to distribute their messages – such as Facebook and Twitter.
There have been examples of mass messages being sent from a friend’s account asking you to look at a particular picture or video, or to access a Facebook app, thereby giving it access to your account. And in December many Twitter accounts were hijacked to distribute spam attempting to sell diet pills.
So the message has to be to stay vigilant while online. The spammers are still out there and as Paul Wood, a senior analyst at Symantec warns, “We’ve yet to see any evidence that spam has become a bad business to be in.”