E-mail threats, viruses worsen in 2002: security vendor

Viruses, spam and malicious Internet scams transmitted by e-mail all grew sharply in 2002, posing a threat to the smooth running of worldwide e-mail systems, according to security vendor MessageLabs Ltd.

The problem of spam, or unsolicited e-mail, has become so bad that the number of spam e-mails being received will exceed the number of legitimate e-mails next year, MessageLabs said in a statement Wednesday.

In its review of e-mail threats in 2002, MessageLabs reported that:

-- Spam now accounts for 30 percent of all e-mail and is set to rise above 50 percent in July next year.

-- One virus was sent for each 212 e-mails in 2002, compared with one virus per 380 e-mails in 2001. This upward trend is expected to continue.

-- Technical sophistication of viruses continues to increase, exposing weaknesses in traditional anti-virus software.

-- Blended threats, where spam e-mails are combined with viruses, showed sharp growth in 2002.

-- Trojans, or attacks targeted at companies and individuals, rose sharply in 2002.

-- Malicious scams, such as the Nigerian e-mail advance fee scam are continuing to proliferate and prosper. The Nigerian advance fee, or 419, scam is expected to gross US$2 billion in 2003, making it that country's second-largest industry.

MessageLabs will detail possible responses to these threats on Thursday at the Information Security Conference in New York.

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