Symantec: Spam Rate Falls to a 12-Year Low

John Lister's picture

According to security firm Symantec, the proportion of spam emails has fallen to their lowest levels in 12 years. It's the first time since 2003 that the majority of emails are not spam.

While the figures are compiled from a variety of sources, the main source comes from customers using Symantec security products containing some form of email filtering. That could mean the report is slightly distorted towards those who find spam especially problematic, and thus overstate their level of spam.

Overall, Symantec estimates that 49.7 percent of email messages contain spam. This covers all email messages - even ones that don't get through to a customer's inbox. For businesses, spam accounted for 50 percent of all emails, which suggests the proportion of messages to consumers that are spam is significantly lower. (Source:

Email Phishing Also Less Prevalent

Email problems as a whole seem to be more under control. Symantec noted that the proportion of emails which contain phishing attempts have roughly halved over the past year. An email phishing attack is where scammers send emails posing as legitimate companies, in an attempt to trick people into handing over financial details, passwords and other sensitive information.

There's also been a notable month-to-month drop in the proportion of emails that contain either malware as an attachment, or a link to a web page housing malware. Those figures are somewhat harder to get a take on, as they are distorted by a massive botnet spike last November which uses a large network of infected computers to relay spam messages.

The key to all these figures is that they are based on the proportion of emails with particular problems. The raw number of spam or phishing emails will, as a rule, increase over time simply because more people are online and sending messages.

Cross-Border Legal Crackdown Has Success

Symantec believes that the main reason for the drop in spam and phishing is the result of more effective legal action against offenders. In particular, it cited efforts by Internet providers across Europe sharing information, which makes it much easier to target botnets. (Source:

With that said, the company also suggests the drop may be the result of some online criminals turning their attention to other attack methods. While some scammers such as those trying to sell counterfeit pharmaceuticals still rely on the sheer number of messages they send out, others appear to be putting more emphasis on using more powerful malware.

In particular, there's been a rise in ransomware, a tactic which involves remotely locking access to files on an infected machine and demanding a payment to unlock it. The high financial returns from such attacks mean it can be worthwhile to criminals, even with a much lower number of computers compromised.

What's Your Opinion?

Have you noticed a drop in the levels of spam and phishing scams in recent years? Does your email provider do a good enough job filtering out spam that you don't really notice any difference over time? Do you think we'll ever see spam die out because people and computers get more sophisticated at dealing with it?

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ronbh's picture

I have not noticed a drop and in fact I have seen an increase on my work address
With the technology that the NSA has to scan and read everyone's email I don't see why they cold not put that technology to good use by finding the spammers and sending out "enforcement teams" to "persuade" spammers to cease.

andrew_4498's picture

I wish it were true. If anything, I noticed an increase in the spam volume. Unfortunately my volume ratio is about 6 spam mails to 1 usable (welcome) e-mail, over a total e-mail traffic of 100 to 120 mails per day. It is apparent that no one will interfere in the e-mail traffic to reduce spam volume, but what can we ordinary mortals do other than not open our e-mail mail box ???