Email spammers have new vigor and new techniques

Spam levels at Costa Rican computer inboxes seem to have skyrocketed following an international trend.

Some operators of Internet server complexes report up to a 10 fold increase in the unwanted email messages.

Not only are most of the emails unwanted, but many carry dangerous viruses and try to trick readers into clicking a link or otherwise accidentally infecting their own computer. Some carry malicious zip files that may be disguised as a simple Web page link.

Computer sources say that this year spammers learned how to evade many filters designed to catch the spam email messages. The spammers are changing the user name, the message subject and even the Internet server used to deliver the spam.

The technique sends what is called snowshoe spam because a snowshoe distributes the users weight over a large area, too.

The situation is not without humor. One server operator wrote on an online discussion list about fake job offers: “I am so unable to decide who to choose for my new employer, Amazon, Facebook or Google. The best part is that I didn’t even send in a resume and I’m getting all these job offers. My reputation must precede me.”

Unemployment is not the only social condition that spammers exploit. Within the last week there has been an uptick of scary ebola messages. The more typical subjects are genetically modified foods, weight reduction, discount coupons and potential mates.

The result is that spammers have pretty well eliminated the usefulness of email advertising, even though the bulk of the objectionable messages in Costa Rica are not local.

Local firms have proliferated because email marketing via spam is a low-cost business to enter. Some will send hundreds of thousands of messages for $100 or less. Lists of email addresses are easy to get. They are for sale online,

A minute or two of spam meesages from the A.M. Costa Rica server.

A minute or two of spam meesages from the A.M. Costa Rica server.

and some of those malicious files can read addresses on the personal computers they infect.

Greenview Data, Inc., which makes the Spamstopshere software, said it calculated that spam increased 8 percent in September with the U.S. providing about 17.6 percent of the messages. A flood of stock market spams helped boost the total, it said. These are the typical pump-and-dump schemes that try to get suckers to purchase a thinly traded stock so that the spammers, who already own shares, can profit with a price increase.

Symantec Corp., the Internet security firm, reported that it was creating new filters for its anti-spam software to catch messages sent with new techniques.

One commercial Internet server provider said that he had blocked 30,000 email addresses to reduce the load of spam. Another reported  300 to 1,000 emails arriving within a second or two, thereby overloading the equipment and perhaps causing legitimate messages to be lost.

Another sever operator said that spammers could buy a cheap Internet domain for a few dollars and then push loads of spam through that server until the scheme was discovered.

Of course, by using an entire network of infected computers, the spammers can send millions of messages from different domains.

Most servers have anti-spam programs, such as Barracuda or Spamassassin. Some firms, like Greenview Data, run customers messages through their own servers and filters. Online experts caution never, never open an attachment from an unknown or suspect address. That’s a hard rule to follow because with infected computers, the email message with the dangerous attachment could be coming from a friend or relative.

In addition to online spam emails, spam text messages to smartphones are beginning to show an increase.

As one server operator said: “Welcome to the new normal.”

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