When it comes to the web, there's no single bigger annoyance than spam. Experts are warning that levels and the ways spam is distributed will rise in 2009. We talk to experts SPAMfighters to find out how to protect yourself.

When it comes to the web, there's no single bigger annoyance than spam. And while 2008 saw a promising blow to endless sea of junk emails, when US ISP McColo was taken offline, it took just weeks for levels to rise again.

2009 looks set to offer much the same spam levels, say experts. In fact, the new year will bring new forms of our biggest web annoyance.

"Some battles have been won in 2008, but the war is far from over," says Martin Thorborg, co-founder of SPAMfighter, a software development and spam research company.

So far, junkmail has managed to infiltrate only about 22 percent of its potential internet territory, Thornberg says. That means more methods - and, yes, more headaches - are bound to be on the horizon.

The spam forecast

They may not have a doppler radar, but the SPAMfighter team has a full forecast - and it doesn't look pretty. Here's what's topping the junkmail outlook for 2009.

More social network spam
Spammers started bringing their ways to networks in increasing numbers throughout '08, and that trend is expected to climb quickly in the coming months.

More complex networks behind the efforts
The shutdown of a Colorado hosting company in November had a significant effect because of its configuration: that single company served as the control centre for the majority of botnets that were propagating unwanted messages. Researchers think as much as 75 percent of all junkmail was tied to that one place. Spammers will be smarter in 2009, SPAMfighter says, building more resilient and less centralised systems.

More combined methods
Spam will be partnered with spyware and phishing tactics to create new kinds of "blended threats", SPAMfighter says.

An increase in 'spear phishing'
Spear phishing are spam campaigns targeted to specific groups and interests. These might include messages tailored to employees of a particular company or organisation, or even just to members of certain online networks. The messages are designed to look like official communications.

A general rise in creativity
In 2008, SPAMfighter observed things like phishing attempts disguised as warnings against phishing. As even novice internet users become more savvy, the disguises are likely to expand.

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Next page: The spam equation

  1. The web's biggest annoyance looks set to increase
  2. The spam equation

When it comes to the web, there's no single bigger annoyance than spam. Experts are warning that levels and the ways spam is distributed will rise in 2009. We talk to experts SPAMfighters to find out how to protect yourself.

The spam equation

Many of the antispam precautions seem obvious - but, obviously, everyone isn't taking them. The good news? The number of people still gullible is small. A recent University of California study (PDF) suggests only one in every 12.5 million spam messages gets a response.

The bad news? That tiny percentage is enough to generate $7,000 (£4,613) a day, or $3.5m (£2.3m) a year, for a decent-sized spam network, the study says. What's more, the activity could add as many as 8,500 new bots into the spam network every 24 hours.

While we'd love to track down those imbeciles actually ordering stuff from spam, the more realistic action is just to spend a few minutes talking about proper cyber-protection. So read on and reinforce your knowledge.

Your spam protection plan

  • Thinking about responding to an unsolicited message? Maybe a pleasant request to be removed from the list? Don't. End of story.
  • The same goes for 'delivery failure' messages. If you don't remember sending the message being referenced, hit delete and move on.
  • Avoid giving out your primary email address on any forum or blog site that you don't absolutely trust. Set up a secondary 'junk' account for public distribution instead.
  • Similarly, don't post your primary email address on your own blog or website. Bots will find it and add you to their lists.
  • Never send money, either for a purchase or donation, to any entity you learned about through an unsolicited message.
  • This is old, but it still hasn't hit home for some folks: DON'T CLICK ON LINKS IN UNSOLICITED EMAILS. If a message from your bank tells you to click to confirm your account, ignore it. Open up your browser and type in the bank's legit URL manually, then see if there's any real issue to be addressed.

Simple enough? I thought so. You're a strong soldier in the war against spam, dear friend. Welcome to the team.

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Visit Security Advisor for the latest internet threat news, FREE net threat email newsletters, and internet security products

  1. The web's biggest annoyance looks set to increase
  2. The spam equation