SiliconFilter

Good News/Bad News: Spam is Down, Malware is Up

/

Thanks to better spam filtering techniques, most of us probably don’t see too many ads for “herbal Viagra” and similar concoctions in our inboxes these days, but that doesn’t mean spam isn’t still a big business. According to the latest Threats Report by Intel’s online security firm McAfee (PDF), the overall amount of spam went down in the last quarter of 2011. One of the reasons for this, though, is that spammers have gotten a bit smarter and now use a more targeted – and sometimes even personalized – approach.

Spam Down (In Most Countries)

It’s worth noting, though, that while spam was down overall, there were a few countries, including the U.S. and Germany, where spam volume was up slightly compared to last year.

spam_volume_mcaffee_q4_11

Malware Up

While spam is down, though, malware, though, is still growing.

With regard to PCs, the overall growth rate of malware samples McAfee encountered in the last quarter slowed down quite a bit from previous years. At the same time, though, the number of unique malware samples the company found increased.

The company’s researchers also noted that they discovered about 9,300 malicious websites per day in Q4 compared to just about 6,500 in Q3. Most of these sites were hosted in the U.S., followed by the Netherlands, Canada, South Korea and Germany.

Android Malware Still on the Rise

Unsurprisingly, the largest growth area for mobile malware is Android. The last year and quarter were, in McAfee's words, “by far the busiest periods for mobile malware we have yet seen.” The largest growth area here is for-profit SMS-sending Trojans and to bypass the Android Market’s increased security measures, the malware authors apparently use forums and other outlets to distribute their wares.

malware_sample



11:15 am


Study: Hotmail’s Spam Filters Are Better Than Gmail’s and Yahoo’s

/

Microsoft's Hotmail has a bit of a reputation for having inadequate spam filters. A new study by Cascade Insight, though, argues that Hotmail actually provides better spam protection than its competitors Gmail and Yahoo Mail. In the study, Hotmail offered slightly better performance than Gmail and was significantly better than Yahoo at detecting unwanted email. Microsoft, which has been fighting public perception that Hotmail is generally behind the times, is obviously quite proud of these results.

Cascade Insights seeded fresh email accounts on all three providers by registering these new email addresses with known ham and spam sites. The researchers then sat back and waited for the spam to arrive. The study was conducted in November and December 2011. Normal inboxes, of course, don't get this much spam, but Cascade Insight argues that this methodology allows it to objectively compare the spam performance of these three different providers.

Talking about the study today, Microsoft pointed out that the average amount of spam in its Hotmail inboxes has decreased from 30% in 2006 to just 3% today. In total, Microsoft announced last year, spam in its Hotmail inboxes is down 90% from its peak. Customer complaints about spam in Hotmail have also dropped 40% over the past year.

Webmail spam microsoft google yahoo

 



11:39 am


Google Now Lets You Block Sites You Don't Like Directly from Your Search Results

/

A few weeks ago, Google introduced a Chrome plugin that allowed you to block sites you didn’t want to see in your results pages. Now, the search giant is taking this concept a step further and allows anybody to block sites right from the search results page. There is a slight twist to this, though. The link to the block feature will only appear after you have visited a site. So if you want to block a site that you deem to be offensive or of low quality, you first have to visit it before you can block it.

block sites

The link for blocking a site will appear underneath the search result, next to the options to see a cached version of a page and to see similar results. A new option to manage blocked sites (with the ability to unblock them) will now appear on your Google settings page.

According to Google, the company is “adding this feature because we believe giving you control over the results you find will provide an even more personalized and enjoyable experience on Google.” Google has, of course, been under a lot of criticism lately as its search results have become increasingly diluted by spam sites and results from content farms that try to game the company’s algorithms to rank as high as possible in Google’s index.

For now, Google is not using this new blocking feature as a signal in ranking sites, but is keeping to option to do this in the future open.

This new feature is rolling out on Google.com today and tomorrow. Google plans to make this feature available in other regions and languages in the future.



12:31 pm


Cyber Solutions: The Company That’s Spamming All Your Favorite Blogs

/

Have you seen these kinds of comments on a blog lately: “Wow, Thats kinda crazy when you think about it dude” or “Wow, this really does make a lot of sense dude. Wow.” Usually it’s followed by a link to a site like www.net-privacy.at.tc, www.anonymize.edu.tc or www.anon-tools.tk. Virtually every high profile tech site on the Internet that allows comments is currently full of messages like these. Of course, comment spam is nothing new, but these guys are not only targeting high-profile sites – their comments actually make it onto these sites with alarming regularity and most are never removed by the site owners.

Given how frequently these messages pop up these days, I decided to take a closer look at who is behind them.

Easily Wowed Commenters: WemiZemi, KemiPemi and YemiYomo

Usually, they are left by commenters with names like WemiZemi, who left no less than 17 spam comments on Mashable in the last few days, as well as 14 on TechCrunch and another 14 on Engadget. Similar spam comments also appear on ReadWriteWeb, Wired, WinRumors, Clicker.com, Robert Scoble’s blog and social media sites like Reddit and Digg. The name of the commenters changes every few days (last week it was KemiPemi and YemiYomo). Most of the comments are of the “That’s kinda crazy when you think about it dude” variety, but some are also clearly geared specifically towards the article the spammer is commenting on. Chances are then, that this isn’t just bot-driven spam.

WemiZemi

From an SEO perspective, these links probably don’t help much. Links in comments today are generally tagged with nofollow or just rendered as plain, unlinked text, so search engines simply ignore it.

So what’s the company behind all of this comment spam? All the link go to identical sites that advertise a product called “Ultimate Privacy.” The company behind this site – Cyber Solutions – promises a “complete privacy and anonymity solution,” including anonymous email, anonymous web surfing, private chat, secure file storage, anonymous blog posting and commenting, as well as anonymous snail mail. According to the site, the company’s business address is in Winter Haven, Florida (in a strip mall right across from a Wal-Mart).

Subscriptions to this “service” start at $24 for 3 months up to $58 for a lifetime membership. Depending on which version of the site you arrived at, the lifetime membership is either there to celebrate the 13th or 14th birthday of the site (the domain name was indeed registered in 1997 and Archive.org first indexed the site in 1998). Payments are handled by PayPal or through the site’s own credit card form.

SPAM! [don't buy]

Image by داود via Flickr

While the spam sites are usually registered to .tc or .tk addresses, the sites sooner or later load content from www.ultimate-anonymity.com (a site registered in São Paulo, Brazil) – including the checkout page. Besides comment spam, the company’s representatives also like to post what I can only assume are fake reviews of their own product.

Who is Doing the Spamming? Probably not Resellers

In the past, Cyber Solutions has argued that it’s the company’s resellers that are involved in spamming. It’s possible that this was the case in the past. Today, however, I can’t find any referral links in their URLs, so it’s hard to imagine that the company – which doesn’t even seem to have an affiliate program – isn’t involved in spamming all of these blogs itself.

But What About Their Awesome Privacy Product?

Wonder if the site is legit? I couldn’t quite get myself to pull out my credit card and sign up, but here are a few things that make me distrust their product: The testimonials on the site, including ones from PC Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the long defunct PC Computing magazine. Breaking news updates on the site are between one and three years old.

Complaints about the site and its comments spam are nothing new. Indeed, there is a whole blog just dedicated to tracking the works of Cyber Solutions/Ultimate Privacy. Quite a few of the complaints argue that the software Cyber Solutions offers is either old, doesn’t work or available for free elsewhere.

I contacted Cyber Solutions for a comment, but never heard back.

Say Hello to WemiZemi and Friends

So the next time you see WemiZemi and one of his friends spam your favorite blog’s comments, you can rest assured that this company has long established its credentials as a prolific comment spammer since the days of USENET – and then please go ahead and delete those comments.

Anon tools tk



8:45 am


Google Talks About Its Spam Problem: "Search Quality is Better Than it Has Ever Been" – But We Can Do Better

/

For a while now, one of the most persistent memes in the tech world is that Google is suffering from a major spam problem and that the quality of its search results have suffered greatly from this. Google today took its critics head-on in a post on its official blog. According to Google’s Matt Cutts – the face of the company’s anti-spam policies – “Google’s search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness.”

Cutts also notes that Google is anything but passive about spam and is more than aware of the fact that others are trying to game its index. According to Cutts, the search team has also recently launched a “redesigned document-level classifier” that is better at detecting spam on individual pages. The company is also currently in the process of evaluating other changes to its index that will mainly affect sites that just copy others’ content.

Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts. Image via Wikipedia

Most interestingly, Google is looking at giving its users more ways to “give more explicit feedback about spammy and low-quality sites.” Cutts didn’t go into any details as to what this could look like, but it’s easy to imagine an explicit “report this link as spam” link on Google’s search results pages. If you install this Chrome plugin, you can already report spammy links to Google today.

Specifically, Cutts also addresses the question whether Google keeps spammy sites in its index because they serve Google ads. His response: [list]

  • Google absolutely takes action on sites that violate our quality guidelines regardless of whether they have ads powered by Google;
  • Displaying Google ads does not help a site’s rankings in Google; and
  • Buying Google ads does not increase a site’s rankings in Google’s search results.

[/list]



10:20 am