Who does not receive emails selling viagra, cheap meds, educational degrees or announce bogus lottery winnings? A new report from Cisco announced on December 18 declared that the criminal elements of the Internet have become so cunning and devious that they’ve made it possible to send out personalized spam.

Wikipedia defines spam as the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages. Personalized spam deviates from this original definition by making these messages appear personalized to the individual – someone coined this as spear-phishing. How can a spammer know my preference? Did anyone hire a private investigator to check out what I like, don’t like?

We are partly to blame for this. Every time we go to the Internet to sign-up for a free online magazine or to access what we think is interesting or to become a member of something, we leave pieces of us on the Internet. Those pieces are being mined by botnets (tiny little programs that surf the web collecting information like maggots collecting crumbs to feed on. Somewhere on the ether there are machines that collect those maggots and process them to create profiles of who we are.

Techies call this process data mining. The best web company I can think of that does this data mining exceptionally well is Google. Come on! Did you ever notice that when you check your Google email, the banners around your screen appear to be more suited to your preference as you use their “free” service? In the ad business this is called contextual advertising – the ability to know exactly what you want, when you want, where you want it.

Imagine walking down a shopping district and your phone sends you an SMS telling that you are just around the corner from a shop selling the latest issue of FHM. As enticing and scary as it may sound, we are not far away from that reality. Beneath Google’s equivalent to the US Government’s infamous “Area 51” lies thousands of servers and zetabytes of storage capacity storing every bit of information botnets can find about you and me.

Cisco released a new report declaring there are nearly 200 billion spam messages sent out daily – about 90% of all email messages. While only 1% of today’sphishing attacks are targetted, it won’t be long before that number balloons to over 50%. You just wait! They are coming!

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