Spam from Gmail doubled last month

Rise in Gmail spam indicates spammers are still defeating the CAPTCHA distorted text used as a security test to thwart mass registration of e-mail accounts

Spam originating from Google's Gmail domain doubled last month, indicating that spammers are still defeating the CAPTCHA, the distorted text used as a security test to thwart mass registration of e-mail accounts and other Web site abuse.

Gmail spam went from 1.3 percent of all spam e-mail to 2.6 percent in February, according to data released by e-mail security vendor MessageLabs on Monday.

The new statistics are another nail in the coffin for CAPTCHA, which stands for "completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart."

Google is the latest free Web mail provider to be victimized by spammers' efforts to create software to solve the codes or, at times, also employ people to solve the codes en masse.

"It's only a matter of time before [CAPTCHAs] are comprehensively defeated," said Paul Wood, senior analyst at MessageLabs.

Last month, security vendor Websense ascertained that spammers were using two hosts to crack Gmail's CAPTCHAs. The method appeared to be successful only 20 percent of the time. But if the procedure is repeated thousands of times, many new accounts can be generated and used to send spam.

Most of the messages use links and images to advertise adult entertainment sites, Wood said.

While other spammy domains can simply be blocked by antispam software, businesses are reluctant to cut off the domains of free Web mail providers because of their legitimate use, he said. Spam from Web mail providers comprises 4.2 percent of all spam.

Google's CAPTCHA system is considered hard to crack, but so was Yahoo's, which is also regularly beaten. MessageLabs said 88.7 percent of the spam from free Web mail providers comes from Yahoo's domains.

Microsoft's CAPTCHA, used for registering accounts on its Windows Live Mail service, has also been cracked. Websense believes the same group of spammers are responsible for breaking both Google and Microsoft's system.

Wood said MessageLabs provides Google as well as other companies with data that helps fight spam. Google could not be reached for comment.

MessageLabs sells a security service to companies, filtering e-mail before passing it to their 17,000 customers. Per day, the company snags 2.5 billion spam messages from a total of more than 3 billion messages.

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