US is top spam-relaying country

Security firm Sophos says that more than a fifth of the world's spam originated from the U.S. in Q3 2006.

The company believes that a possible reason for the U.S.' increasing lead in relayed spam is the emergence of more than 300 strains of the mass-spammed Stratio worm. The worm, also known as Stration or Warezov, uses a trick dependent on the victim being able to speak English in its attempt to convert innocent PCs into members of a spam botnet.

After the U.S., which accounts for 21.6 percent of relayed spam, in Sophos' list comes China (13.4 percent), France (6.3 percent), South Korea (6.3 percent) and Spain (5.8 percent). The U.K. has successfully dropped out of the top 10 chart, and is currently in 13th position

Most unsolicited emails are now sent from zombie PCs -- computers infected with Trojans, worms and viruses that turn them into spam-spewing bots -- says Brett Myroff, chief executive of Sophos distributor, NetXactics.

"In the past, hackers relied on operating system vulnerabilities to convert innocent computers into zombies. Now, they are turning back to malware to trick users into running their malicious code, and opening the backdoor to hackers." Hundreds of new versions of the Stratio worm have helped steadily increase the volume of spam seen travelling across the net.

Sophos has also identified new tricks being used to harvest email addresses for spam purposes. The first asks recipients to forward their chain emails for a fake research project, while another campaign encourages users to visit a video tribute website, which then requests their email address in order to view the full video.

"Integrated antimalware and antispam protection is getting the better of illegal spam peddlers -- forcing them to get more creative and crooked. However, if people are playing their security cards right, the spammers' efforts will still be in vain," says Myroff.

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