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Mysterious drop in fraud and spam

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Spam levels suddenly dropped 30 per cent last week, according to managed security firm SoftScan, which attributes the let-up to a "broken" botnet.

SoftScan is still investigating the possible cause of the significant drop in junk mail volumes it's recording but reckons the most likely explanation is that hackers have temporarily lost control of a significant network of compromised machines. It seems unlikely that new computers at Christmas had much to do with affecting the number of compromised machines out there.

Alternatively the drop in spam might be a result of the recent earthquake in Asia disrupting spamming activity from that region, but this theory fails to explain a gradual (rather than more sudden) drop off in spam levels this month.

By contrast junk mail levels remained much as normal throughout December including the period around the 26 December earthquakes off Taiwan. Nine in ten emails processed by Softscan last month (89.4 per cent) were identified as junk mail. Only one in 200 emails (0.5 per cent) scanned by the firm last month were infected by malware, despite the outbreak of a worm that posed as a seasonal "Happy New Year" greeting late in the month.

Meanwhile anti-fraud organisation Early Warning reports that fraud surprisingly fell last month, even though Christmas witnessed a rise in e-commerce sales. Christmas sales rose 40 per cent compared to last year while losses from fraud fell slightly. It reckons greater vigilance by merchants is behind the drop in losses.

"This is really an unexpected and encouraging first in internet fraud statistics. As e-commerce goes on rising, we are used to corresponding increases in fraudsters' activities to capitalise on it," said Andrew Goodwill, managing director of Early Warning. "As the number and value of sales has risen so sharply, fraud - as a proportion - is definitely down. The reason for this drop is I believe the increased awareness of internet merchants of the fraud risks they face and they have measures in place to detect the fraudulent attempts."

Goodwill said that he hoped the decrease in levels of fraud would be sustained over upcoming months so that it proved more than just a "blip". "Merchants should not be complacent, and need to be looking for ways to keep this downward trend going for the year to come," he added. ®

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