Spam races to the Olympics

Expect more incidents of online scams and fraud connected to next month's Beijing 2008, as well as spam targeted at mobile devices, Symantec says.

Online scammers are expected to latch on to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, opening in a month's time, in a bid to lure unsuspecting victims, a new security report has revealed.

Symantec's latest State of Spam monthly report (PDF) highlighted a series of messages that purport to be from the "Beijing Olympic Committee". The official title of the body tasked to oversee the upcoming Olympics is the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad or BOCOG.

The e-mail messages claimed the recipients were among winners of a lottery to promote the sporting event, and contained attachments that not only provided instructions on how prizes can be claimed but also requested for personal information.

In its report, Symantec predicted more fraud and spam messages to emerge in the lead-up to the Games.

The security vendor also pointed to the rise of spam specifically tailored for easy reading on mobile devices, citing an adult dating spam message in Japan, which included a link for mobile users to access. When selected, the URL page was found to fit small screens such as that of a mobile device. Symantec was unable to say at press time whether this problem extends to other parts of Asia.

According to the vendor, spam currently constitutes about 80 percent of all e-mail traffic worldwide, compared to some 56 percent two years ago. Statistics from another security vendor Sophos released in April, indicated that spam constituted over 92 percent of e-mail messages during the first quarter of this year.

Europe, said Symantec, remains the leading source of spam globally with a 43 percent share. North America contributed around 28 percent, while some 17 percent originated from the Asia-Pacific and Japan region.

A separate report from BitDefender, indicated that text-based spam constituted about 70 percent during the first half of 2008, compared to about 20 percent during the same period last year.

Andra Miloiu, spam analyst at BitDefender, said in a statement last week: "Plain text continues to be the most prolific medium for e-mail spam distribution, especially due to its simplicity, reduced size and extreme versatility."

According to BitDefender, image-based spam dropped from 60 percent last year to 3 percent between January and June this year. Also on a downward trend was stock spam, which decreased to 2 percent in the first half of 2008, from 25 percent during the same period in 2007.