Reports show October spam increase

October was a scary month for IT administrators in charge of filtering spam, according to a pair of reports from messaging security firms.

Research from St. Bernard Software showed a 33 percent hike in spam and virus activity compared to September. The San Diego-based company, citing its October Threat Center results, attributed the rise to the beginning of the school year and an increase in the victimization of college students' computers.

The report also noted growth in the number of visits to social networking and file-sharing sites, two favorite online destinations for students. With unmanaged web surfing and minimal download policies often in place at colleges, clean student PCs are often turned into zombies near the beginning of each school year, according to St. Bernard.

“[Due to lax management at educational institutions], computers are quickly recruited into botnets and used to pump out spam, viruses and phishing attacks,” said Andrew Lochart, St. Bernard vice president of marketing and product management.

During October, both the average number of daily messages and the amount of spam that St. Bernard's customers received rose by 33 percent over September. Phishing scams rose as well, with the company identifying a 10-fold increase in the number of phishing websites during October.

St. Bernard did not indicate how many respondents took the survey.

Meanwhile, a survey from Ipswitch, a Lexington, Mass.-based software developer, revealed that 20 percent of 460 North American IT directors, managers and administrators saw more than a 100 percent annual increase in spam on their email servers. Overall, 76 percent of IT managers surveyed reported some form of increase in spam volume, 27 percent said they receive complaints from email users about spam on a daily basis, and 25 said they received complaints on a weekly basis.

Other findings from the Ipswitch report indicates that users' computers averaged 30 incidents of virus infection over the last 12 months, and that those PCs averaged 22 installations of spyware or key loggers during the same period. White and black lists -- both rated as "very important" by 56 percent of the respondents -- were viewed as the most important spam-control tools for the management of a company's messaging system.

The cost of defending against email threats averaged more than $13,000 annually when factoring in technology solutions, staff, recovery, remediation and end-user training, according to Ipswitch. The annual cost of damages caused by email-related events, including lost productivity, staff time and fines related to compliance regulations, averaged $5,600.

The Ipswitch survey indicated that viruses and malware did not increase as rapidly as spam volumes on email servers. Only 11 percent of those surveyed said they'd seen an increase in viruses, worms and trojan infections on users' laptops and desktops, while 44 percent saw a decrease. When asked about spyware or key logger programs installed on email users' computers, 17 percent said they'd seen an increase, 32 percent reported a decrease and 31 percent saw no change.
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