Inbox Insider: Spammers got sharper in 2009

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At the end of this year, many marketers will look back and think about the growth of iPhone apps and the integration of e-mail with social media messages. But as legitimate marketers got more sophisticated and savvy in 2009, so too did spammers. Spam-filled inboxes make it tougher for e-mail marketers to get their messages through to consumers.

According to a report released by IT security vendor Symantec, spam levels rose 6.5% this year over 2008, with spam accounting for 87.7% of all e-mails sent, up from 81.2%.

More types of spam also emerged. Paul Wood, MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst at Symantec, said his company saw more than 21 million spam campaigns this year, more than twice the number it saw in 2008 and a 23% increase in malware variants year-over-year.

The biggest security threat that Symantec monitored this year was Conficker/Downadup, a worm that allows its creators to remotely install software onto botnets, or infected computers. Although the Conficker worm originated at the end of last year, its creators updated the malware on April 1, making it stronger and more able to get through filters. In addition, the attacks hijacked more machines than in years past, with potentially 6 million infected computers.

Like in years past, spammers took advantage of hot topics in 2009. In the first half of the year, the credit crisis generated many finance-related spam attacks. Valentine's Day, the H1N1 flu pandemic and the deaths of celebrities Michael Jackson and Patrick Swayze were also popular spam topics, as spammers preyed on consumer interest.

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