Why Have Spam Levels Suddenly Fallen?

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A computer screen inbox displaying spam

Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

NewsFeed was about to offer you High Qua1ityMedications, a discount on Viagra and the opportunity to fund a small African country. But then we noticed that spam levels had fallen, so we thought better of it.

Over the past few months, the amount of junk e-mail being sent has seen a dramatic fall. The decline started to set in back in August but really slumped over the Christmas period. Paul Wood, a senior analyst at Symantec Hosted Solutions told the BBC that three of the largest spam producers have recently curtailed their activity. One of them, known as Rustock, was at its peak responsible for nearly half of all global spam, but that fell to just 0.5% in December.

(See spam E-mail in TIME’s 50 worst inventions.)

Before we get carried away and start imagining a world without annoying messages, it’s worth pointing out that there have been considerable drops in spam levels before. “Usually they have been associated with the botnets (the term used for networks of infected computers being disrupted). As far as we can tell Rustock is still intact,” Wood said. From this we can extrapolate that Rustock was still in a position to send out spam but chose not to and that could mean that the spammers are merely regrouping ahead of a new campaign.

Taking the optimistic line, however, and it’s been more evident of late that anti-spam campaigns have enjoyed some success in putting a spanner in the works of the spammers. Last September, for example, Spamit announced it was shutting down due to “numerous negative events” and increased attention.

(See the top 10 oddball news stories of 2010.)

But there are always new threats on the horizon. And spammers may well be moving away from the traditional field of  e-mail and turning to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter instead. Last month, Twitter accounts were hijacked to distribute diet pill spam after a list of possible passwords was published. The takeaway is that we may never truly be rid of spam but rather live in a world where the damage is kept minimal. Now, about those High Qua1ityMedications…

(See the most unforgettable photos from 2010)