Asia has overtaken North America to become the top spam-relaying region in the world, according to a report released on Thursday by Internet security firm Sophos. Nearly one-half the spam Sophos captured on its global spam-monitoring network originated in Asia, with North America coming in a distant second as the source of just over 25 percent of spam.
As recently as two years ago, the U.S. was responsible for the majority of spam sent around the world, said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.
"More and more viruses, worms, and Trojan horses are being designed to take over innocent users' computers with the intention of stealing information and sending out junk e-mail campaigns," he said. That the U.S. has cut the amount of spam it generates in half is evidence that more Americans are now aware of the need to "protect their home computers from malicious hackers."
U.S. Crime Fighter
Sophos credits legislation, such as the CAN-SPAM Act, and greater information sharing by Internet service providers (ISPs) as central to the reduction in U.S.-generated spam. The imposition of harsh penalties and severe fines leveled against the country's most prolific spammers also has helped, Cluley said.
He noted that the majority of spam is sent illegally from hacked third-party computers. During the first few months of 2006, several people who admitted responsibility for distributing massive quantities of porn spam also acknowledged involvement in criminal spam rings, Cluley pointed out.
"We're seeing spammers being successfully brought to justice in the U.S., but it's important to remember that they can be based anywhere in the world," he said. "In fact, the vast majority of spam is generated from zombie computers -- hijacked PCs infected by malware."
Fighting Spam Abroad
The increasing awareness of ways to stop spam in the U.S. has had an unintended consequence on the rest of world. Unable to conduct their illegal schemes here in the U.S. without risking severe fines or punishment, spammers have taken their operations to other countries.
"Europe is in danger of overtaking North America as the second-worst spam-relaying part of the world," Cluley explained. "This continental shift is inevitable because as North America's percentage continues to fall, the rest of the world is witnessing a rise."
While legislation can help, it is not the best way to stop spam, Cluley said, noting that it is a red herring to think, for example, that firmer action by the authorities in China would stem the flow of spam there because much of it is sent from other regions of the world and simply relayed through compromised Chinese computers.
The best solution to the problem of spam, according to Cluley, is in the hands of home and business PC users.
"What's needed is for home users to better protect their computers with automatically updated antivirus software, operating system patches, and decent firewalls," Cluley said. "It is imperative that computer users worldwide put better defenses in place to prevent their computers from being converted into spam-spewing zombies."