Cape Town - Spam is back on the increase, according to data from a security company.
According to research Kaspersky Lab, spammers increased in activity by 13% in February after a decline since mid-2012.
"Such a dramatic increase in the amount of spam in February hardly marks the beginning of a new trend. It was most probably caused by a decline in the share of junk e-mail during the January holidays when many of the computers used in botnets to distribute spam were turned off," said Darya Gudkova, head of Content Analysis & Research at Kaspersky Lab.
Europe was the focus of much of the spam, the research found.
"Italy was the country targeted most by malicious e-mails in February. The country's share of mail antivirus detections grew by 9.4 percentage points and averaged 14.4%, pushing long-term leader the US into second place," Kaspersky said.
Most of the spam was sent via e-mail, averaging 71% of all mail for the month, despite spammers' increasing use of social networks.
One of the most common tools used is fraudulent notifications from financial organisations. These are used to distribute malware that may seek to steal user information and online banking details.
"This trick was especially popular in Italy where the spammers most often utilised Trojan-Banker.HTML.Agent.p which came second in February's Top 10 malicious programs spread via e-mail.
"This Trojan appears in the form of a HTML page imitating registration forms of well-known banks or e-pay systems which are used by phishers to steal users' credentials for online banking systems," Kaspersky said.
In SA, spammers also make use of messages allegedly sent by FedEx which say that a parcel could not be delivered and the user is advised to click on a link to ensure delivery. In many cases, this method downloads malware to the PC.
Low interest loan offers is also a popular method to spam users in SA.
The research though, shows that SA is not a major target of spammers with only 8% spam recorded in the country.
Google is popular with fraudsters who use the giant search engine to entice users to click on links that may infect their computer with malware.
"In February, they [spammers] launched a mass mailing that included the Google name notifying users that their résumé was under consideration.
"To avoid any confusion, the recipient was encouraged to open the attached file to check their resume was correct. The attachment was a zip archive containing malware designed to steal passwords and other confidential data on the user's computer," Kaspersky warned.
South Korea became a major source of spam for European users in February, accounting for 50.9% of junk e-mail, dropping previous leader China to sixth place.
Kaspersky speculate that the reason might be a change in botnet.
"Such significant changes in the share of spam produced by these two countries may be due to the fact that a group of spammers started distributing from a different botnet."
A botnet is a group of compromised computers used by criminals to send malware and target companies with cyber attacks that may cripple networks.
South Korea suspects North Korea of conducting a major cyber offensive that saw thousands of computers at banks and media companies being shut down.
New threats include HP-UX update for Java, Ubuntu update for gnome-online-accounts, Ubuntu update for ruby and WordPress MathJax-LaTeX Plugin Cross-Site Request Forgery Vulnerability, identified on Tuesday.
The US still leads the globe as a source of spam, the survey found.
"In February, the US topped the rating of the leading sources of spam worldwide. The amount of spam sent from China halved resulting in a drop to second place. As was the case in January, South Korea came third."