Although many reports seem to indicate that email spam is dropping, email spam and botnet infection is still a major danger for most U.S organizations and people – with criminal practices netting hacking gangs billions of dollars every year.

Estimating the infection levels and the amount of spam being sent was one of the chief aims of the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG). M3AAWG, is a global network tasked with promoting cybersecurity best practices and tackling organized internet crime. M3AAWG was created 10 years ago by a number of leading internet service providers, with the goal of enhancing collaboration and sharing knowledge to make it more complicated for criminals to spam account users. By reducing the impact of email spam on individuals and organizations, ISPs would be able to better secure users, IPS’s email platforms and their reputations.

It was noticed that quantifying email spam and botnet infection levels was an extremely difficult task; one that was only possible with collaboration between internet service suppliers. Arising out of this collaboration, the organization has produced reports on the global state of email spam and botnet infection. Its latest analysis suggests that approximately 1% of computer users are part of a botnet network.

The data gathered by M3AAWG involved assessing 43 million email subscribers in the United States and Europe.,The data analysis showed that IPS’s normally block from 94% to 99% of spam emails. The company’s report suggests that overall, IPS’s do a good job of blocking email spam.

The figures look good but, taking into account the huge scale of email spam, billions of spam emails are still making it through to users, with financial organizations and other companies now being regularly focused on with spam and malware.

Email spammers are well backed financially, and criminal organizations are using email spam as a means of getting hold of tens of billions of dollars annually from internet fraud. Spam emails are sent to phish for sensitive information, such as bank account information, credit card details and other highly sensitive data including Social Security numbers. Accounts can be cleaned out, credit cards maxed out and data used to carry outt identity theft; racking up tens of thousands of dollars of debts in the victims’ names.

In previous years, email spammers were dedicate to sending emails randomly to accounts with offers of cheap Rolexes, Viagra, potential brides and the opportunity to claim an inheritance from a long lost relative. Currently, spammers have realized there are far greater rewards to be gained, and emails are now sent containing links to malware-infected websites which can be used to gain access to users’ PCs, laptops and Smartphones, gaining access to highly sensitive data or locking devices and seeking ransoms.

Some emails may still be shared manually, but the majority are sent via botnets. Networks of infected machines that can be used to send huge volumes of spam emails, spread malware or organize increasingly complex attacks on individuals and organizations. The botnets are available via rental, with criminals able to rent botnet time and use them for any number of taks.

A large number of attacks are now coming from countries where there is little regulation and a very low risk of the perpetrators being caught. Africa states, as well as Indonesia and the Ukraine house huge volumes of scammers. They have even established call centers to deal with the huge amount of enquiries from criminals seeking botnet time to carry out phishing and spamming campaigns. Tackling the issue at the source is difficult, with corruption rife in the countries where the perpetrators live.

However, it is possible to lower spam level, and the danger of staff members being tricked by a scam or downloading malware by installing a robust email spam filter, reducing the potential for spam emails and phishing campaigns getting through to individual accounts.  A report from Verizon showed that 23% of users view phishing emails and 11% open attachments and visit links included. Making sure that the emails reaching users is therefore one of the most successful methods of defense against these attacks.