Between 2005 and 2006, the number of unsolicited emails increased 147 percent, says Postini Inc., the world’s largest spam-filtering company. This means that for each welcome e-mail, 14 junk messages show up too. To visualize the intensity of attacks, Postini mapped the suspected origins of 1,010,186,128 spam emails intercepted on December 18, 2006 (above).
1 YOU ARE SPAMMING YOURSELF RIGHT NOW About 74.4 percent of all spam came from Internet addresses in the United States. Why? Spammers infect unprotected personal computers with viruses to do their dirty work. More computers with high-speed Internet connections mean more raw material for spammers. Criminals link hijacked personal computers together to form “botnets”—clusters of infected PCs that spammers can control from anywhere in the world.
2 MADE IN TAIWAN Taiwan, a country with weakly enforced spam laws, proved to be a major source of Internet mayhem. By setting up “honeypots”—dummy computers that spammers unknowingly incorporate into their botnets—the spam-blocking company Ciphertrust discovered that 3,200 of about 5,000 botnet-controlling servers are located in Taiwan. Last December, the world got a break: A 7.1 magnitude undersea earthquake damaged cables and caused a massive but temporary drop in spam.
3 SCOTLAND YARD FOR E-MAIL London is home to the Spamhaus Project, a volunteer task force that hunts down the most notorious spammers. Tracking down just one spam kingpin can take years, but that can lead to a major bust. Last May, after a two-year search, a U.S.judge sentenced Jeanson Ancheta to nearly five years for a 14-month spree in which he hijacked 400,000 personal computers and sold the stolen computing power to spammers.
4 BAD IN BRAZIL In economically depressed countries like Brazil, junk e-mail can mean mucho dollars. Some schemes can earn spammers more than a 5 percent average return—as much as tens of thousands of dollars—on their investment in a single day.
5 FROM RUSSIA WITH SPAM Of Spamhaus’s purported “Top 10Worst Spammers,” six are from Russia and Ukraine. Spamhaus’s reported czar of the spam world, Alex Polyakov, heads a web of mortgage,pharmacy, and child-porn spam gangs. Polyakov continues to reap success by fooling the latest e-mail filtering technologies with digital images. This textless tactic increased data traffic on e-mail servers by 334 percent last year. “The data volume is causing a meltdown of e-mail infrastructures,” says Postini spokesman Daniel Druker. “Servers can’t keep up.”