Spam, e-mail threats high in the Asia Pacific in January

Singapore a financial target

Incidents of unwanted e-mails and attacks on computers ran high last month for countries in the Asia Pacific region, according to the monthly report of IT security firm Symantec.

In Symantec's January 2010 MessageLabs Intelligence (MLI) on Internet security threats, countries in the Asia Pacific showed incidents and rates higher in most cases than the global average. The monthly report covered Internet threats such as spam, phishing, and viruses.

MessageLabs' January monitoring covered the entire Asia Pacific region but only countries with significant and relevant data have been released.

Spam

In general, countries in the Asia Pacific monitored last month by Symantec surpassed the global spam ratio of 83.9 per cent, which was a decrease of 0.3 per cent since December 2009. Hong Kong's spam rate was 92.1 per cent; China, 91.7 per cent; Australia, 90.6 per cent; Singapore, 88.5 per cent; India, 88.4 per cent; Japan, 88.2 per cent; and New Zealand, 87.8 per cent.

Paul Wood, MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst, Symantec Hosted Services, explained that the spam rates were high because spammers have recently "increased their efforts in translating spam into the local language of a country using automated tools."

For instance, countries in the region with a predominant population using the Chinese language had the highest percentage of spam in Chinese. Other countries, on the other hand, received very little amount of spam in Chinese, Wood added.

"Generally, English-speaking language countries seem to send more legitimate e-mail than non-English-speaking language countries. Perhaps this is a cultural influence and in many Asia Pacific (and Japan) countries, other forms of communication may be preferred, such as instant messaging. This means that with fewer legitimate messages in circulation, the overall spam ratio is much higher," he told Computerworld Singapore.

Financial hub

In Singapore, in particular, Symantec's regional monitoring noted that its position as a financial and commercial hub has made it vulnerable to Internet security attacks.

In a white paper authored by Dan Bleaken, data analyst, MessageLabs noted: "2009 has seen an unwelcome surge in spam, viruses and targeted trojans heading for corporate gateways across Singapore. The danger they pose for Singapore now significantly exceeds that facing the world as a whole."

The same white paper noted that the whole Asia Pacific was a prime target for Internet security attacks last year with rates exceeding the global average and higher compared to 2008.

"In July 2009, for instance, Asia Pacific's spam rate was 92 per cent compared to a global rate of 89 per cent," the paper read.

The report also noted that more than 79 per cent of webmail spam came from three well-known free Webmail service providers. But these providers were not identified in the report.

Virus

The global ratio of email-borne viruses in e-mail traffic decreased last month to by 0.03 per cent or, one in every 326.9 e-mails, or 0.31 per cent. Last month, 13.2 per cent of e-mail-borne malware contained links to malicious websites, a decrease of 5.9 per cent since December.

Virus activity in China rose by 0.13 per cent to one in 121.4 emails, placing it at the top of the list worldwide for January.

In Australia, virus activity was at one in 644.1 and in Hong Kong virus activity reached one in 331.9; for Japan it was one in 396.5."

Wood explained that 13.2 per cent of e-mail-borne malware in January comprised of malicious hyperlinks contained in e-mails, rather than executable or other malicious attachments.

"E-mail is still the favoured medium for initiating social engineering attacks, particularly for more targeted attacks," he added.

Phishing

Phishing incidents decreased by 0.11 per cent; one in 562.3 e-mails (0.18 per cent) comprised some form of phishing attack, said Symantec.

Incidents of one in 457 put China in the top three spot worldwide. Phishing activity in Australia was at one in 1,156; in Hong Kong one in 1,663; Japan, one in 1,888.

Wood noted a decline in phishing attacks in the latter part of 2009 as cyber attackers got tired of using phishing toolkits.

Most of these phishing activities targeted English-speaking countries.

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