01:31 PM

Phishing Attacks Rise Sharply But Spam Emails Decline

Automated botnet toolkits drive website security breaches, with social networks hit hard, Symantec report reveals.

Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, Local Pain
Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, Local Pain
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Phishing attacks have risen sharply even though spam has declined to its lowest level since 2008, a new report reveals.

For September 2010, spam comprised 89.4% of all email, down from 92.5% in August, according to a new report from Symantec. The September total was the lowest level since 2008, when rogue ISP McColo was shut down. Phishing jumped by 52% in September from the month before.

"This [phishing increase] was primarily due to an increase in both automated toolkit attacks and unique phishing websites," said Symantec. Meanwhile, the number of phishing websites -- generated by automatic toolkits -- increased by 46%, unique URLs increased by 83% and phishing websites with all-numeric IP domains -- such as -- rose by roughly 35%.

One possible explanation for the decline in spam is "the shutdown of," as well as the recent string of Zeus arrests made by the FBI and law enforcement agencies abroad.

However, Symantec warned that "if the aftermath of the McColo shutdown is any indication, the volume should gradually return over time." Security experts believe that at its peak, McColo was serving 75% of the world's spam.

Interestingly, Symantec also found that phishing attacks via social networks are rising, with a 38% jump in September from August. Just 79 free website hosting services accounted for 83% of all such attacks, while the others were hosted on websites with newly registered domain names or legitimate domains that had been compromised.

Another frequent scam involved using "typosquat" websites -- domain names with slight misspellings snapped up by attackers and primed to infect any PC that visits via drive-by downloads.

The most-used phishing schemes involved fake prize redemption, poker, porn -- "stating that free pornography is available for viewing upon entering login information” -- or free cell phone airtime.

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