Phishers ride on financial crisis theme

Spam e-mail exploiting the downturn in the economy have pushed phishing attacks to double in the last month, posing as financial institutions.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Phishing attacks have doubled in the last month, with phishers riding on the downturn in the economy to pose as financial institutions, said Symantec.

According to the antivirus company's latest MessageLabs Intelligence Report, the recession theme has seen a revival in the past month, where spam is concerned.

"At a time when concerned consumers may not be surprised to hear from their banks, phishing attacks have risen to one in 190 e-mail messages, from one in 396 in January 2009," said the report.

"Recession spam" messages have also surfaced, carrying text strings such as "money is tight, times are hard". February saw the reappearance of search engine redirects referencing the financial crisis, for the first time in over a year, said Symantec.

Overall, however, spam declined by 1.3 percent to 73.3 percent of all e-mail messages in February. The report added this includes a spike in levels hitting 79.5 percent at the start of the month, due in part to Valentine's Day-themed spam.

Symantec said the vast majority of such spam originated from the Cutwail (Pandex) botnet, which pushed out an estimated 7 billion Valentine's Day-themed messages each day.

Paul Wood, MessageLabs intelligence senior analyst, Symantec said: "Although spam levels declined slightly this month, the level of activity around Valentine's themed spam reached unprecedented highs accounting for 9 percent of all spam messages."

The report said all countries saw a slight dip in spam levels this month with the rate in the United States falling to 57 percent, 52.6 percent in Canada and 66.6 percent in the United Kingdom. Germany's rate was 69.1 percent and 67.4 percent in the Netherlands.

In Australia, this was 68.5 percent, 72.8 percent in Hong Kong, 67.8 percent in China and 65.6 percent in Japan.

India was ranked at the top position for viruses, however, with virus activity rising by 0.16 percent to hit one infected e-mail in 197.4 messages.

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