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Report analyses common tactics in spam

09 August 2010 - 10:29 by Mike Price

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A new report into the keywords chosen by cybercriminals when mounting a spam email campaign, has shed light on the types of wording and topics which are most popular and more likely to dupe consumers.

The study, authored by MessageLabs Intelligence, concluded that web address shortening was becoming a big problem, but also outlined the more traditional and enduring methods employed by spammers.

In spam which attempts to convince the recipient to buy a product or service, the most regularly recurring term was 'Viagra', indicating that the sale of illicit online medication is still a popular topic to cover. 'Special' and 'discount' were also high in the list, which shows that spammers are trying to compromise the consumer's ability to carry out safe shopping online.

Spam which targets users with malicious software attached typically contains the keyword 'account' which means that the content is likely to hijack your personal banking details and result in costly fraud. Spammers who are attempting to lead users to phishing sites prefer to name check reputable online payment firm PayPal in order to attract the attention of recipients.

Interestingly it was shown that spammers are able to successfully con more people if they are respectful and polite in the wording of their emails. Attacks targeting specific sections of the population see the frequency of the word 'please' increase considerably.

MessageLabs Intelligence's Paul Wood said that cybercriminals are best able to pose as firms offering safe shopping online if they use socially acceptable language that is designed to placate the recipient.

Mr Wood warned of the danger of target spam campaigns, as their relatively small scale area of impact means that security vendors are less likely to detect and patch any potential malware issues until it is too late.

Mr Wood urged caution in an interview with, saying that spammers would most likely attempt to target users with attached documents.