Feeds

Common usernames get more spam

Time to evolve, aardvarks

The essential guide to IT transformation

The use by spammers of dictionary attacks means those whose email address begins with a less common first character are liable to get less spam.

Research by Richard Clayton of Cambridge University was initially reported as establishing that usernames beginning with A are likely to get more spam than those sporting a Z.

Those with email addresses starting with A - "aardvarks" - got 35 per cent spam, but "zebras" received a mere 20 per cent.

That's true, but it's only part of a bigger picture, Clayton clarified on Friday.

"The point being that the effect I am describing has little to do with Z being at the end of the alphabet, and A at the front, but seems to be connected to the relative rarity of zebras," Clayton explained.

M and P are popular first letters for people’s names. Each get around 42 per cent spam, more than those whose usernames begin with A.

Clayton based his analysis on email traffic logs maintained by Demon Internet. The ISP filters automatically filters out some spam based on its origin, so the percentage of spam to real email (ham) received by Demon users is better than commonly quoted figures that four in five email messages or more circulating on the net are junk mail.

The study revealed a disparity between the proportions of spam received by active addresses with different first characters.

The actual volume of spam a user receives will depend on factors such as whether they have been careful not to post their email address online or to avoid responding to dodgy offers. Clayton's research shows that even averaging out different behaviours, something as simple as the first character in an email address can have a big effect on the junk mail volumes a user receives.

"The most likely reason for these results is the prevalence of 'dictionary' or 'Rumpelstiltskin' attacks (where spammers guess addresses). If there are not many other zebras, then guessing zebra names is less likely," Clayton explained.

"Aardvarks should consider changing species — or asking their favourite email filter designer to think about how this unexpected empirical result can be leveraged into blocking more of their unwanted email," he added.

Clayton presented his research in a paper (pdf) at the fifth conference on email and anti-spam in Mountain View, California, earlier this month. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
Oz fed police in PDF redaction SNAFU
Give us your metadata, we'll publish your data
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?