Google: Spam Volume on the Rise Again

If you've noticed more spam in your inbox recently, it's not necessarily because you are now getting more spam that you used to. In fact, spam levels are still lower now than where they were this time last year. No, the increase is just spam slowly working its way back to its "normal" levels after it significantly dropped off last November. Sadly, we were all just momentarily lulled into a sense of false hope. The party is officially over.

 Credit: Google
Last November, web hosting service provider McColo--which was notorious for hosting and trafficking spam and malware--was permanently taken offline. Instantly, spam levels dropped a remarkable 70 percent. Spam levels have remained relatively low for a couple of months now, but as spammers regroup and find new willing providers, the numbers have started to creep back up again--spam levels have increased 156-percent since the November drop. At this rate of increase, we're only a few months out from being right back to where we were before McColo went offline.

Curiously, the weeks leading up to McColo being pulled didn't even represent the highest spam volumes seen. That actually happened earlier in 2008, on April 23, when Google estimates that its Google Message Security data centers blocked an average of 194 spam messages per user. Some users fared even much worse:

"This peak was driven by an unprecedented number of non-delivery receipt (NDR) attacks we saw in April. One customer who was the target of a specific NDR attack said that their users were receiving an average of 100 emails every minute."

  Credit: Google
Even though our inboxes caught a bit of a reprieve late last year, Google estimates that spam was still up 25 percent in 2008 from 2007. Obviously, had McColo not gone offline, this year-to-year volume increase of spam would have been even higher.

"Our statistics show that the average unprotected user would have received 45,000 spam messages in 2008 (up from 36,000 in 2007)."

And even with the temporary drop in spam in late 2008, Google reports virus volume still saw a significant net increase:

"During the second half of 2008, virus volume increased six-fold from the first half of the year."

Spam and viruses often go hand and hand, as spam is frequently used as a platform for disseminating malware. It's a safe bet that as spam volume picks up steam in 2009 that virus volume will follow suit. Aside from the proactive steps that users, service providers, and Websites can take and the cautious behavior we can implement when trying to deal with spam, the only real indication that spam can be noticeably thwarted--even if only temporarily--is via another industry-wide coordinated effort, similar to the unprecedented events that led to McColo's shutdown.
Tags:  Google, security, spam