Technology & Science

Spam hits N.B. hardest: report

New Brunswick receives the most spam email of the Canadian provinces while nearby Newfoundland gets the least, according to a report from security firm Symantec.

New Brunswick receives the most spam email of the Canadian provinces while nearby Newfoundland and Labrador gets the least, according to a report from security firm Symantec.

About 92.5 per cent of email in New Brunswick qualified as spam over a 10-month period studied by Symantec Hosted Services, a subsidiary of Mountain View, Calif.-based Symantec, which sells anti-spam software and services. That was the worst rate in the country and the only province to exceed the global average of 89.3 per cent, the company said.

New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan exceeded the Canadian average of 88 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador fared best with only 86 per cent of email considered spam, followed by Quebec, Nova Scotia and Manitoba at 87 per cent, Ontario at 87.5 per cent and Alberta at 87.6 per cent.

Areas with a greater proportion of small- and medium-sized businesses tend to get spammed more, the report said, because they generally have fewer resources to fend off unwanted email. Social and economic factors were also considerations, as were differing levels of security education.

In Canada, the hospitality and government sectors attracted the most spam.

"We found that the hospitality industry appears to be one key driver of the high spam rate in New Brunswick," senior analyst Paul Wood said in a release accompanying the report. "Service-oriented companies like hotels and caterers require a lot of interaction and communication with partners, suppliers and customers, and so they tend to receive large amounts of spam."

About 90 per cent of the world's spam is generated by about five to six million computers that have been compromised by cyber criminals, the company said. The computers have been organized into networks called botnets that send an estimated 120 billion emails each day.

Spam is a problem for companies because it wastes bandwidth, processing power and employee productivity, the company said. The email messages themselves are also a problem because they can lure people into infecting their computers with malicious software, or dupe them into revealing sensitive information.

Canada lags many developed nations in adopting anti-spam laws. The federal government introduced legislation in May, Bill C-28, to combat spam, which it hopes to be able to pass in the fall. The new bill was similar to its predecessor, C-27, which was killed off by the prorogation of Parliament. All four political parties generally supported that bill.

University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist said that lax laws have resulted in Canada being a spam haven. Spammers such as Montreal's Adam Guerbuez, who in 2008 was fined $873 million (U.S.) by a U.S. court for sending unwanted messages to Facebook users, can operate in Canada "with impunity," he said.

Although security companies such as Symantec have self-interests in pointing out spam problems in Canada, their findings should not be dismissed because most such surveys tend to come to the same conclusions, Geist said.

"Relying on any single survey or data point can be problematic, but using the collective wisdom of several reports is certainly very valuable. Of course there is a self-interest there, but many of them tell a consistent story."