Image: Courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: Courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Opinion

Damn that Spam

By Sorab Ghaswalla

Mumbai, November 5, 2012

Saddled with corruption, a lacklustre political leadership and a stagnant economy, India now has one more problem to grapple with. A digital problem associated with the real world. That of spam.

A recent study by malware detectors SophosLabs has shown that India tops the list of spam spewing nations; that too, for the third straight quarter.
The top 12 spam-relaying countries for July to September 2012:
1. India - 16.1%
2. Italy - 9.4%
3. USA - 6.5%
4. Saudi Arabia - 5.1%
5. Brazil - 4.0%
6. Turkey - 3.8%
7. France - 3.7%
8. South Korea - 3.6%
9. Vietnam - 3.4%
10. China - 3.1%
11. Germany - 2.7%
12. United Kingdom - 2.1%
Others- 36.5%
India is certainly making progress on this front. In April 2012, SophosLabs had come with a “dirty dozen” report (Top 12 list of spam spewing nations) that said India, for the first time, had knocked off the USA as the world’s biggest spam-relaying nation. At that time, 9.3% of the world’s total spam was being generated from computers in India. Today, this figure has gone up to 16.1%.
There’s almost no one who’s digitally connected who has not faced the problem of spam. Despite the best efforts of email providers, regulators and users themselves, there’s no reduction in the number of spam mails we receive every day. If anything, the number seems to be increasing.
SophosLabs’ Graham Cluley has clarified that India’s high numbers suggest that many of its ill-protected machines have been turned into spam-spitting zombies in botnets (tiny bits of malicious software). What should be equally worrying for Indians who use the Internet is the fact that India's growing role as spam relayer points to the country's PCs not only being used to send spam, but being targets of other online threats themselves, according to Cluley.
SophosLabs has clarified that it is not as if all the computers involved in India were consciously targeting other users with spam. Many PCs unknowingly harbour malware infections that turn these machines into “spam-spitting slaves”, infecting many more PCs down the line. Others are controlled by cybercriminals who make easy money by pushing junk emails to promote questionable goods, or simply use malicious code to infect more computers.
So what needs to be done? If you were to ask me, before India becomes a permanent leader of the pack, the Indian authorities need to two things: Educate and Attack. Information Technology watchdogs in the country combined with government agencies need to educate the masses on IT security. Like any other real world malaise – prevention in this case, too, is needed.
For those who consciously use their computers to deliberately infect others for whatever reason, the Government’s IT ministry needs to launch a well-orchestrated attack on them. A crackdown, like the concerted tackling of film piracy, will send the right message to such malicious people. 
Spam is no longer something that can be taken lightly, it no longer can be dismissed as a prank or a misdemeanour. It has to be seen and combated as a serious IT crime. Then, and only then, will spammers fear the law and perhaps give up their wayward ways.
Before I sign off on this subject, here’s something you can chew on: Did you know there’s actually a Spam Clock that measures, with every passing second, the number of spam pages being created? 
Started by search engine blekko on January 1, 2011, the clock has already registered 15,745,682,323 spam pages (till the time of the writing of this column). Go check it out ( to understand the enormity of spam in our lives.

Previous columns by Sorab Ghaswalla

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