Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Becomes the World Leader in the Production of Internet Spam

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 4 – Last year, the Russian Federation led the countries of the world as the source of spam messages that are filling up email boxes everywhere, just one of the ways in which computer operators in that country represent a threat to the users of the world wide web, according to the annual report of a leading Russian Internet monitoring organization.
The Kaspersky Laboratory, a Moscow company which produces programs to defend against viruses, hacker attacks and spam, said in its highly regarded annual report that was released today that 22 percent of the spam on the Internet originated in Russia, compared to only 16 percent generated in the United States (
Like their counterparts elsewhere, the report said, Russian spammers most frequently “have employed technologies which allow them to get money quickly. One of these technologies,” it continued, involves “paid SMS, by means of which users are offered services [of various kinds] for pay.
But while many of these offerings are legitimate if annoying, the Kaspersky Laboratory experts pointed out, spam is now being used to spread harmful viruses throughout the web. (It pointed out that in 2008, China rather than Russia was the leader in the distribution of such viruses) (
And it noted that “besides the traditional viruses, which are directed at the destruction of data on the computer of the user or the obtaining of personal data on an individual, there have appeared fraudulent anti-viruses,” programs that tell users that their computers are infected even when they are not an offer to “cure” the situation “for pay” (
According to the laboratory, which is a leader in the production of anti-virus technologies, “Russian cyber-criminals are taking a most active part in the realization of new types of virus attacks, the development of technologies to defeat systems designed to identify and defeat such attacks.”
For example, it continued, Russians involved in this area have developed systems that threaten “the mass theft of confidential data and the distribution of unwanted and harmful traffic on the Internet” and that are particularly directed at those who use social networks regardless of where these are nominally located.
The laboratory’s report said that over the last year, there had been “a sharp increase in the number of such attacks,” and it gave as an example the use of viruses designed to steal passwords and other personal data. During 2008, the number of such viruses increased some 300 percent.
More serious, the Russian analytic center suggested, were the rise over the last 12 months of viruses that are able to mask themselves as legitimate messages and thus fool an increasing number of people going online as to their purpose. Unfortunately, it said, this trend is likely to continue in 2009, because the worsening economic situation makes such crimes very profitable.
At the same time, the Kaspersky Laboratory reported some successes in the struggle against this type of crime. On the one hand, thanks to the efforts of the anti-virus industry [of which it is a part], Internet providers and governments, several major distributors of criminal spam have been shut down.
And on the other, the report said, “specialists in anti-virus technologies did not observe any remarkable epidemics of harmful computer viruses because cyber-criminals [now] prefer to act in a more concealed fashion than in previous years and to direct their efforts on local [rather than international] systems.”
That is bad news for Russian Internet users, the annual survey said, but at least temporarily it is good news for others. Unfortunately, “in 2009, the situation may change, because the competition between producers of harmful programs and services is sharpening in connection with the world economic crisis and the maturation of the cyber-crime market.
Most of this cyber-crime arises in the private sector, but some of it may be tied to government officials who have particular political as well as economic interests to promote. And the ease with which those operating in the government sector may influence the private one or vice versa is reflected in a remarkable exchange in the Russian blogosphere.
That exchange shows that one or more individuals who propose hacking a site or directing harmful viruses at it can rapidly attract a following, something that may make assigning responsibility for such computer crimes extremely difficult but also something that makes such attacks especially dangerous and frightening (

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