7/1/2008
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McAfee's Great Spam Experiment, Unplugged

Many spam messages sent to participants in the study were phishing emails or contained malware or links to malware-ridden sites

Guys get more spam than gals, and malware-borne spam is more prevalent than you think: Those were some of the finds from McAfee’s great spam experiment where 50 participants from around the globe volunteered to get spammed for one month.

The volunteer spam victims in McAfee’s Spammed Persistently All Month (S.P.A.M.) project went unprotected on the Web for 30 days, visiting even the riskiest of sites, and logging nearly 2,100 spam emails apiece, or about 70 per day. Men received an average of 76.6 spams per day, while women got about 60.6 a day. But perhaps the most telling trend was that many of the spam messages were phishing emails or contained malware or links to malware-ridden sites, or used social engineering techniques to entrap them into divulging private information -- all of which McAfee attributes to spam increasingly being tied to cybercriminals.

"Many of our participants noticed that their computers were slowing down, which means that while they were surfing, unbeknownst to them, Web sites were installing malware,” said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs. "In just 30 days there was quite a noticeable change in the system performance of their computers. Notably showing just how much malware was being installed without their knowledge. Spam is much more than a nuisance; it's a very real threat.”

Among the participants, who were chosen by McAfee from Craigslist, were a blogger, an elementary school teacher, a retired accountant, a a Realtor, and a psychology graduate student. They received a total of over 104,000 spam messages, with the U.S. by far getting the most spam, with 23,233. Brazil came in second, with 14,856.

“Our participants came from all walks of life, from all over the world and, given their interest to take part in the experiment, they were well aware of the problem. Despite this, they were all shocked by the sheer amount of spam they attracted in such a short timeframe and the lengths the spammers would go to in order to achieve success,” said Dave DeWalt, chief executive officer and president of McAfee. "I think we can see from the experiment that spam is undeniably linked to cybercrime, however it is an immense problem and it's simply not going away. It's no longer a question of 'solving' it, but one of 'managing' it.”

Financial spam was the No. 1 type of junk email, and “Chase.com” was the most popular phishing email. McAfee also noted a rise in regionalized spam written in local languages and targeting local events. The volunteer spam victims kept diaries of their spam experiences.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE)

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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