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Volume of image spam will rise

What is it: "One of the big trends in 2006, that the industry has been struggling with, is spam being embedded in an image," says David Cole, director of Symantec Security Response. Dubbed "image spam," it's been replacing traditional spam, which anti-spam software blocks easily. He expects to see this trend continue well into 2007.

While spam filters can detect spammy text, images confuse the filter. "It's very difficult, almost impossible for anti-spam software to extract text from an image," says Paul Wood of MessageLabs. Plus, spammers aren't using the same image every time it goes through the software -- it changes by a few pixels each time, he says.

Typically, image spam advertises medical products such as performance-enhancing pills -- "stuff you don't want to walk into a CVS and get" -- and financial spam, including the pump-and-dump scam, says Cole. In this stock-pumping scam, consumers receive an e-mail claiming that a particular penny stock is about to skyrocket and encourages recipients to buy shares of that stock immediately. When they do, the stock's price jumps and then the spammer, who owns shares of that stock, sells his shares at the inflated price for a huge profit. Once the hype stops, the price drops and investors lose their money.

Image spam
A common type of image spam is the pump-and-dump stock scam. In this typical example, spammers promote a thinly traded stock and promise that its price is about to skyrocket. Notice the sense of urgency in this message. Spammers need victims to purchase the stock all at once so they can then sell their shares for a quick buck.

In general, any spam that contains malicious content will have a Trojan embedded as a downloadable file or will be at the Web site you're directed to, says Ronald O'Brien, senior security analyst with Sophos Plc. So watch for links and attachments.

What you can do: If you really want to reduce the amount of image spam you receive, look for anti-spam software that has more than one filtering engine, says David Marcus, security research and communications manager for McAfee Avert Labs. McAfee's SpamKiller is one example.

Other than that, just report and delete all spam, image or otherwise. You can forward investment-related spam to the Securities and Exchange Commission at enforcement@sec.gov

6 types of Internet scams on the prowl:
Attacks using Web 2.0 sites will increase.
Malware will spread through instant messaging.
Volume of image spam will rise.
Phishing e-mails getting more sophisticated, targeted.
Botnets will grow in popularity among cybercriminals.
Phone threats will soon strike.
Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: Feb. 22, 2007
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