By Gregg Keizer
Jan 22, 2007
The United States again led the world as a spam producing, malware
hosting country last year, a security vendor said Monday, but China took
top dishonor as the nation that generated the most malicious code in
Sophos, which published its annual threat roundup Monday, said
U.S.-based computers were responsible for sending 22% of the year's
spam, with China second at 15.9%, and South Korea third at 7.4%. Nine
out of every 10 spam messages sent worldwide were sent from so-called
"zombies," computers that were hijacked and sent messages without their
"On a per-capita basis, the U.S. has a disproportionate number of PCs,
and a disproportionate number of them are unprotected," says Ron
O'Brien, senior security analyst for Sophos. The machines make an
inviting target for spammers, who collect the purloined PCs in botnets
that they then use for their spam runs.
Other nations have made better progress than the United States in
blocking spammers, according to Sophos. South Korea, for instance, once
the number-two spamming country, has slipped to third after successful
efforts were waged to educate users to secure their machines, while
Canada has fallen from the fifth spot in 2005 to 17th in 2006, thanks to
authorities' work in pushing ISPs to separate compromised systems from
The United States also led the globe in hosting malware, reported
Sophos; its servers accounted for 34.2% of all Web-based malicious code.
China again held second place, with 31%. "The U.S. market is undeniably
a target for online criminal activity. More and more, organizations with
U.S.-based Web sites are falling victim to targeted attacks," says
In one important category, however, the United States failed to finish
in the top five.
"Thirty percent of the malware written during 2006 came from China,"
says O'Brien. "Most of it was designed to steal logons and passwords
related to online games." When asked why Chinese malware targets online
gaming rather than, say, bank accounts, O'Brien says games "seem to have
more of a cultural significance than strictly finance. It's like an
American hacking MySpace."
Brazil, meanwhile, accounted for 14.2% of the world's malicious code,
and consisted mainly of Trojan horses that targeted online banking
services. Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine came in third through fifth by
producing 4.1%, 3.8%, and 3.4% of all malware studied by Sophos'
But percentages don't tell the whole story. "Russia was responsible for
some of the more malicious malware," says O'Brien. "In Russia, [hacking]
is primarily an organized crime activity."
One of the few bright spots in 2006, says O'Brien, was the dramatic
decrease in infected e-mail, messages that contain a malicious Trojan,
worm, or virus payload. During 2005, one in 44 messages were infected
(2.2%); last year, only one in 337 messages carried a malicious payload
But the drop doesn't mean cybercrooks have given up on e-mail, just that
they've switched tactics.
"While the number of e-mails containing malware has dropped, we've seen
an increase in the number that links to a malicious URL," O'Brien says.
"During 2006, as many as 5,000 new URLs a day were hosting malicious
Sophos' 2006 report  can be downloaded as a PDF file from the
company's Web site.
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