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Spammers Target Mobile Users with More Than 350,000 Unique SMS Spam Variants in 2012

Cloudmark, Inc., the global leader in messaging threat protection for communication service providers, today unveiled new research demonstrating the sophisticated and varied methods used by attackers to target mobile users. Cloudmark’s comprehensive 2012 Messaging Threat Report revealed there were more than 350,000 unique unsolicited mobile spam variants in 2012, with the highest churn rate in December with more than 53,000 unique variants alone.

Spammers have favourite categories of attacks and frequently change individual messages in order to try and evade detection, resulting in a large number of variants. The report reveals that the most common unsolicited spam purported to be gift card offerings (44%), iPhone and iPad free giveaways (11%) and, in the UK in particular, Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) compensation (3%), which appeared after legislators determined that refunds were due to loan recipients who had been mis-sold the insurance.

The report findings are gathered through the Cloudmark-powered GSMA Spam Reporting Service, launched at Mobile World Congress in 2012. Mobile users can report their unsolicited spam by forwarding it to ‘7726’ spelling out SPAM on their keyboard. Suspicious texts submitted to this service help Cloudmark tackle spam on behalf of participating carriers, who receive comprehensive reports with detailed information on spam content, senders and reporters, which enables them to block numbers and reduce further spam.

Neil Cook, CTO at Cloudmark, said: “Global smartphone adoption rapidly increased in 2012, with smartphone users passing the 1 billion mark and this has consequentially resulted in a hike in mobile messaging spam. As opposed to email, we often automatically trust that our SMS must come from someone we know or have done business with and attackers are well aware of this wide acceptance, using it to their advantage. Our research is highlighting the growth of sophisticated mobile threats as new mobile technologies develop and 2013 will see a rise in this sophistication.”

The 2012 Messaging Threat Report identifies the top scam trends that will continue in 2013, such as the first Android botnet to be used to send SMS spam and the use of blended messaging threats to dupe mobile users.

SpamSoldier—Android Botnet Spreads SMS Spam

The SpamSoldier Android Botnet, initially seeded via SMS messages, purported to offer free versions of popular mobile games. Unknown to users, the downloaded game files contained both an initial loader program and a pirated copy of the game. When mobile users ran the game, the loader program sent SMS spam, deleted itself and installed the pirated game.

The sophistication of SpamSoldier was further highlighted as the loader simultaneously added a filter to block incoming SMS messages, preventing the user from being notified that they were spamming their contacts. During the period when the spam was first detected in November to when it was taken down in December, it is estimated that the spammer sent between five and ten million SMS messages, resulting in several thousand mobile devices being infected with the malware.

Blended Messaging Threats Bring New Level of Sophistication

Blended messaging threats also built momentum during 2012. These attacks used a combination of email, SMS messaging, instant messaging conversations and mining of social network relationships to send spam. With Affiliate Webcam Spam, for example, spammers start by sending out a sequence of SMS messages that to appear to be one half of an interactive conversation. Scammers then coax the mobile user into ‘conversing’, by sending predetermined questions or answers to the mobile user. From SMS, scammers then entice the user to converse on other platforms such as instant messenger to ultimately lead them to a webcam site which offers an affiliate program that pays $40 per sign up.

Free Offers Most Likely to Dupe Mobile Users

The 2012 Messaging Threat Report also identified the most popular method to dupe mobile users is by offering items for free. ‘Receive a gift card’ and having a ‘trial of an iPad or iPhone’ totaled more than 50 percent of the volume of SMS spam.

This type of ‘giveaway’ spam often requires the mobile user to offer privacy-compromising information via a survey and multiple click-throughs to various sites to qualify for the free ‘gift.’ Spammers are able to extract the user’s personal information to continue to push their scam campaign. Mobile users can qualify to receive the gift but often the costs associated with receiving the product outweigh the gift.

To avoid mobile users becoming victims of unsolicited SMS spam, Cloudmark is offering five tips:

  • Mobile users are strongly encouraged to forward spam texts to their carrier via “7726” spelling out “SPAM” on the keypad
  • Do not text “STOP.” This response only works with text alerts that the recipient has legitimately signed up to, and has the reverse effect for spam texts – merely confirming that the number is live and encouraging the spammer to continue to target that phone
  • Only download mobile applications from reputable app stores and read the terms of service closely
  • Never respond to an SMS requesting login details or other personal details – particularly if it claims to be a bank or financial institution
  • Speak to your mobile operator to see if you can set up content filters on your mobile account so that premium rate texts cannot be charged and adult content displayed.

Notes to Editors

For the complete Cloudmark 2012 Messaging Threat Report, please visit: http://www.cloudmark.com/releases/docs/threat_report/Cloudmark_2012_Annual_Threat_Report.pdf

About Cloudmark

Cloudmark builds messaging security software that protects communications service provider networks and their subscribers against the widest range of messaging threats. Only the Cloudmark Security Platform™ delivers instant security and control across diverse messaging environments, enabling communications service providers to create a safe user experience, protect revenue and safeguard their brand, while streamlining infrastructure and reducing operational costs. Cloudmark's patented solutions protect more than 120 tier-one customers worldwide, including AT&T, Verizon, Swisscom, Comcast, Cox and NTT. For more information, please visit www.cloudmark.com.

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