4G EFFECT: India sees sudden rise in spam and malware

Spam volumes in 2016. Source: “Spam and phishing in 2016” by Kaspersky Lab

The rapid increase in Internet penetration in India seems to be having an unintended consequence, an equally fast rise in the instance of spam originating in the country.

According to Kaspersky Lab’s annual spam report, India and Vietnam were almost tied for second place in terms of the number of spam emails sent out in 2016. The first place was maintained by USA.

While the US accounted for 12.08% of the total spam, Vietnam accounted for 10.32% and India was close behind with 10.15%. While the other countries’ shares are largely stable, India’s share showed a remarkable increase in the later part of 2016. In the first quarter of 2016, India’s share of total spam sent out was only 6.19%.

Though Kaspersky Lab does not identify the reasons, the increase coincides with the rapid spread of wireless Internet in India. Both India’s per-capita consumption of wireless data as well as the number of Internet users zoomed in the second half with telecom operators slashing 4G prices due to hyper competition.

According to a recent report, a new telecom operator that started operations in India towards the middle of 2016 was carrying 94% of the country’s wireless Internet traffic by the end of the year.

Another recent study by networking equipment maker Cisco also found that 85% of emails in India were spam.

Not surprisingly, the total volume of spam emails in 2016 increased to 58.31% of overall email traffic, a rise of 3.03% on 2015, Kaspersky said.

Chinese companies, eager to find customers across the world, also contributed to the rise of spam emails during the year, the network security firm said.

“Chinese businesses have not started to use new, more targeted, convenient and less intrusive advertising platforms, such as social networking sites, and Kaspersky Lab researchers believe this may be because social networks in China are mainly internal, with global giants such as Facebook not being permitted. As a result, Chinese entrepreneurs have far fewer legal means of entering the international market, even though the state has passed its own anti-spam law, which is one of the strictest in the world,” the firm said.


While spam, or unsolicited emails, may itself be only a nuisance, it assumes a dangerous character when it is used to distribute malware. Malware refers to software that is surreptitiously installed on a target’s computer or phone and is used to extract money or otherwise harm the individual or the organization.

According to the report, about 20% of all spam emails in Q4 2016 distributed ransomware Trojans, which is only one of the several types of malware.

“Trojan.Win32.Bayrob was used to send out spam and steal personal data, and was the most popular malware family distributed via email,” Kaspersky Lab said.

Germany, with 14.13%, remained in first place among the countries targeted, followed by Japan (7.59%) and China (7.32%), both of which were outside the top 10 in 2015.

The report also found that 15.29% of global Internet users sampled reported being subject to phishing attacks.

Phishing attacks refers to emails that try to trick a user into parting with sensitive information such as credit card data and bank passwords by using fake webpages that look like genuine financial websites.

Phishing attacks, that rely on trickery and ignorance on the part of the user, and are more difficult to monitor, rose fast in 2016.

“The average proportion of phishing attacks against customers of financial institutions was 47.48% in 2016, up from 34.33% in 2015 and 28.74% in 2014,” Kaspersky Lab said.