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The Symantec State of Spam report is always something to look forward to, although it can often make depressing reading. Everyone is plagued by junk mail, filters are straining under the load, and spammers are managing to stay on top of their evil trade by employing cunning new techniques to avoid detection and deletion. A good example being the 38 percent of total global spam by volume seen by the Symantec Probe Network that was image based. Symantec also note that spammers are employing the use of slanted and warped text within the image spam as a method of obfuscation to further successfully confuse anti-spam filters.

It used to be the case that if you read a different report by a different security vendor then you would see wildly different statistics and analysis, often dictated by whatever particular product or service that vendor was keen to promote at the time. That is no longer the case, and the statistics have settled down to become much closer these days. Perhaps a sign that the anti-spam industry is, at last maturing, and getting it right. If only from the reporting frontier, and not necessarily the filtering one. So whereas Symantec report 70 percent of SMTP email by volume as being spam during February, the MessageLabs report for the same period is not far away at 77.8 percent.

The really interesting stuff is revealed when you start to dig deeper into the figures and see trends emerging relating to the type of spam we are being sent. While products, predictably, and health, ditto, remain at the top of the category tree with 24 percent share of the spam pie each, and financial junk not far behind them on 21 percent, it is at the bottom end that the surprises are to be had. Fraudulent email messages sent as spam may make the headlines, but as a percentage of total spam volume it’s still only a pretty insignificant 3 percent. Proof that the real money is to be made elsewhere, through the quasi-legitimate mass marketing media that spam has become for so many businesses. But wait, there is more, because alongside fraud at the bottom of the pile is none other than sex.

A few years ago it seemed like our mailboxes were dominated by porn spam of one kind or another, but this trend has been in decline for some months now. The 3 percent share figure is, Symantec tell me, an all time low. Of course, the small fact that some of the sex spam is categorized elsewhere might have something to do with this: Viagra and virility both land in the health bucket, for example, despite the content being considered strictly adult by many on the receiving end. All that said, the fact that there is less pornographic and unsolicited adult material landing in our collective inboxes has to be a good thing.

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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