And the Spam War Raged on

1372674595_0As difficult as it is to believe, 2013 is almost a distant dream while 2014 is gearing up to be another interesting year in the ongoing war on all things security. It might be easy to assume that the New Year will see more of the same, but as George Santayana famously stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Just as we’ve seen in recent years, whenever we think we’ve got the security nut cracked, our spam folders securely locked down, and our malware detectors running at peak performance, something happens to remind us that the Internet is a delicate beast and cybercriminals are as slippery as they are slimy.

It helps to remember what happened and put it into perspective, and 2013 was as interesting a year in the war on spam as we can remember. There were plenty of newsworthy stories, ranging from countries that won’t take spam sitting down, to countries that take large mouthfuls of it lying down. So let’s take a look at the year in spam and see if we can learn anything from it as we get ready to pop the champagne and welcome in a year, that if we know anything, we know nothing about.

But Wait! There’s More!

Marketing spammers took top billing in 2013 as being the most useless, irritating, and self-righteous of all the spammers, often making purveyors of porn and fake Viagra – the malicious spammers – seem tame by comparison. Somehow thinking that it was their god-given right to horn their way into our inboxes, email marketers made lots of headlines, for example this too-good-to-be-true spoof that anthropomorphizes spam.  Called “Haptance,” this clever video deserves an honorary Oscar for putting into action what so many of us have felt for years.

Marketing spammers made news as we shed the spotlight on marketing groups that actually teach their membership how to avoid the spam filter. In real-world speak, they’re teaching other marketers how to send you email you don’t want. And, as expected, we saw spammers of all ilk capitalize on special news events or certain times of the year to lure people into their den of iniquity.

Some Nations Get Medieval on Spam while One Continues to Frustrate

If it’s possible to have fun watching the war on spam rage on, 2013 had a few moments that deserve instant replay. Certain countries – the US and Australia, most prominently – made it crystal clear that spammers, whether they be of the marketing ilk or the just one shade of gray left of illegal, are not welcome. In the United States, the FTC lowered the boom on spammers when they filed eight separate complaints on spammers in March, while down under, the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act of 2007 continued to get an Arnold Schwarzenegger workout as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) levied fine after fine against anyone who had the audacity to send people unsolicited email.

Meanwhile, the United States’ neighbor to the north continued to be the laughing stock of the electronic world. In 2010, Canada passed the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act, and at the time the nation’s Conservative government touted it as the toughest anti-spam law on the planet. Maybe someone needed to point out to then Industry Minister Tony Clement that a) Canada was the last G-8 country to pass such a legislation, b) Canada was years late to the scene behind other pioneers like the US with its CAN-SPAM (2003) Act, and c) other countries were actually DOING something with the legislation, like, uhm, enacting and enforcing. Now, as 2013 draws to a close, we’re told that Canada’s new (old) legislation will actually go into effect July 1, 2014. Why the wait? This after years of the Conservatives being lobbied by Canadian mega-corporations until the law was pared down into something which we fully expect to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Excuse us, Canada, while we take the time for a pronounced yawn.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

In the realm of malware, spam attacks and techniques, 2013 saw much of the same, but differently. We saw evidence that nonsense spam is much more than nonsense. Apple had its share of problems, too, losing that much-touted reputation of being a safe platform. In 2012 the company finally removed that claim from their website and we saw chinks in Apple’s armor, with more to come, it seems.

We saw major attacks on Australia and rumors of Black Hat spam becoming the norm. Blackhole continues to be the stuff of IT admin nightmares and a new threat from Web Hosts. We got a peek at the dark side of spam, thanks to arrests in Russia. And finally, we’re beginning to get a sense of how spammers are using multiple methods toward the same end. And while the players haven’t changed, we get the sense that the landscape has. So buckle up for 2014. It could be a rough year.

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