January 6, 2004, 12:00 AM

Viagra responsible for more spam than any other product in 2003

An anti-spam software developer finds more than 50 ways spammers alter the word Viagra to get it through filters. Overall, spam outbreaks occur worldwide at the rate of 400,000 per day, or 4-5 per second.

 

Consumers’ e-mail in-boxes were flooded by the end of the holiday shopping season, and it wasn’t just with retailers’ holiday offers. It should be no surprise to anyone with an online in-box that Viagra was responsible for more spam than any other product in 2003, according to data from anti-spam software developer Commtouch Software Ltd.

Commtouch monitors e-mail headers as well as “body signatures”--condensed partial representation of the body text--of millions of e-mails worldwide under agreements with Internet service providers. The software developer has identified more than 50 ways that spammers modified the word “Viagra” to get it past anti-spam software and content filters.

Viagra is a major culprit but it’s not alone. Commtouch reports its spam detection center saw a 33% increase in spam outbreaks overall during December. Commtouch executive vice president Avner Amram estimates that new spam outbreaks have been occurring worldwide at the rate of 400,000 a day, or about 4-5 outbreaks a second.

Eradicating the unwanted e-mails will be a tall order for federal anti-spam legislation that became effective Jan. 1. “In the days before Can Spam came into effect we didn’t see signs that companies and spammers were making the necessary changes to comply with the law,” says Amram. “Spammers are still using tricks in message headers and most of them still do not attach postal addresses to their e-mail messages as the law requires.” More than 44% of spam outbreaks identified by Commtouch had personalization and random characters. More than 28% of the spam messages had modified words in subject headers to escape detection by spam filters.

In addition to a potentially negative effect on e-mail marketing as consumers` in-boxes overflow with unsolicited e-mails, spam’s rapid evolution can cost e-mail users in lost productivity and enterprises in resources as they must keep tuning their anti-spam software to block spammers` latest tricks. As a result, software developers are coming up with new approaches to keep ahead of spammers. Commtouch’s recurrent pattern detection anti-spam technology, for example, detects spam within minutes after it’s sent by analyzing a large volume of internet e-mail traffic for repetitive patterns in real time, then it automatically blocks the spam. “Commtouch anti-spam solutions detected all Viagra text tricks with no loss of productivity or resources to customers,” Amram says.

 

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