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Spam hotspots are emerging as the global levels of junk mail worldwide continue to increase. More than two thirds (67.6 per cent) of the 840m emails scanned by filtering firm MessageLabs last month was identified as spam. MessageLabs figures also indicate significant regional variations and spam "hot spots", despite attempts to deter spammers through legislation.

Currently, email traffic sent to the United States, the UK, Germany, Australia and Hong Kong represents more than 97 per cent of the global spam volumes being filtered by MessageLabs. The US was the worst hit, with 83 per cent of total traffic identified as spam. This fell to 52 per cent in the UK, 41 per cent in Germany, 32 per cent in Australia and 30 per cent in The Netherlands. In Hong Kong spam represented 27 per cent of total email volume.

The figures suggest spammers are targeting English-speaking countries and regions where the proliferation of Internet/email usage is at its highest.

Mark Sunner, Chief Technology Officer at MessageLabs, commented “The US presents the widest market for spammers in terms of Internet access and adoption of email as a communications tool. While it currently has the worst global figure at 83 per cent, it’s only a matter of time until the UK falls victim to similar volumes in around six-months time, whilst Asia-Pacific countries will likely see the same impact in 12 months time. When it comes to the Internet, when the US sneezes, the rest of us catch a cold."

“Countries where English is a widely-used language, particularly in electronic communication, will always be a natural target for spammers as mass mailing in one common language is by far the easiest way for them to disperse their messages," he added.

The majority of spam originates in the US, with Boca Raton, Florida the worldwide capital of junk mail. This is no coincidence, according to MessageLabs.

Sexually-explicit spam on the wane

A study from rival message filtering firm Clearswift out yesterday suggests financial spam (37.8 per cent) is close to overtaking pharmaceutical spam (40 per cent) as the most common form of junk email. Healthcare spam dropped from 57 per cent of unsolicited mail in March back to 40 per cent in April, with financial spam growing from 26 per cent in March to 38 per cent of total spam blocked by Clearswift in April. It is the second straight month financial spam has grown. Financial spam accounted for 11 per cent of junk mail blocked by Clearswift in February.

Meanwhile porn spam continues to decrease, reaching its lowest level since the inception of the Clearswift Spam index in June 2003. A year ago, porno spam accounted for 22 per cent of all junk email blocked by Clearswift. Sexually explicit spam has been on decline ever since, accounting for only five per cent of total spam seen by Clearswift last month. US Federal Trade Commission rules insisting that porno spam needed to be labelled as "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT" came into effect last week.

“We’ve seen no sign of a let up in the amount of spam traffic so it seems quite clear that the legislative efforts of governments around the world are having little effect on the spammers,” said Alyn Hockey, Clearswift’s Director of Research. “However, from the dwindling amount of pornographic spam email, it appears that adult products and services are not generating sufficient returns for spammers. Instead, they are switching to more profitable models using stock tips and consumer products as a hook.”

US laws (the CAN-SPAM Act) allow companies to send junk email without prior consent but it does at least criminalise hiding the true origins of spam. European anti-spam laws insist on prior consent but largely fail to criminalise spamming. UK laws are amongst the worst in the world because they only apply to consumers and not business email accounts. Only Italy and Australia, as far as we're aware, have anti-spam laws that both insist of prior consent backed up by criminal sanctions against offenders. ®

Related stories Anti-spam laws baffle UK.biz
Europe drags heels in war on spam
SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: FTC labels porno spam
UK.biz largely indifferent to spam tsunami
CAN-SPAM means we can spam
MS takes fight to the spammers

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