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Seven Years of Unwanted Email, Charted and Graphed

Ever wonder what a long history of tracking unwanted email might reveal? Raymond Chen saved every piece of junk email and virus-laden email over the last seven years. Recently Chen posted a graphical plot in his blog of the trends related to that saved email. The plot is colorized so you can see certain trends from his perspective. That is to say, the plot represents email that made it past his corporate email and virus filters and isn't necessarily representative of the Internet at large.

When you look at the chart you can see that junk mail has been somewhat of a problem for many years, however its spread has grown significantly, especially beginning in 2002 and up until today. Another interesting trend is the proliferation of viruses and the like. Based on Chen's plot it looks as though malware over email began to increase significantly at the end of 2001 and began to spike in the middle of 2002 where that trend still continues, although there are some areas where number of malware-infected email messages was greater.

Chen also compared the junk mail he received from his active mail account to that of an inactive mail account which he hasn't used since 1995. He determined that since that account still receives quite a bit of junk mail, and he hasn't used that address since 1995 (none of his contacts has it in their address book) that the address was probably harvested before 1995. His analysis also reveals that the inactive mailbox hasn't received any email with malware attached, which indicates that a huge percentage of malware is spread via email using people's address book and contact lists. But you knew that already, right?

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