Why Russia’s Spam Levels Don’t Look More Like China’s
August 2, 2011
By Jack Walsh

I recently wrote a blog entry called, “Whatever Happened to China” that suggests what may have led to a noticeable decrease in the spam ICSA Labs had been receiving from China at the end of 2009. I concluded that the amount of spam we collected from China fell just as the Chinese government began making the .cn domain name registration process more cumbersome.

Like China, Russia also made it more difficult to register a domain name. But unlike Chinese spam, which slowed to what is for all intents and purposes a permanent trickle, Russian spammers continue to thrive:

One wonders why Russian spam didn’t drop noticeably or at all when the .ru domain name registration process became more cumbersome in April 2010 (see the graph above based on spam data collected by ICSA Labs). Possible reasons why there was no corresponding drop off in spam originating in Russia include business corruption, botnet proliferation, and the unfettered flow of email.

In terms of corruption, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev characterizes it as “endemic” in his country. And Spamhaus’ CIO Richard Cox at the tail end of a Network World article suggested that bribery and corruption may explain at least in part why Russia continues to be a leading spam-sending nation. Corruption may have nullified the more robust changes made to .ru domain name registration.

A more technical reason why Russian spam levels are high and unchanged is that Russia is a world leader in botnets. According to the July 2011 report from Commtouch, Russia accounts for the fourth largest number of zombies globally. Many of them seem to be busy sending a lot of spam to you, me, and our organizations.

Still China isn’t far behind Russia in terms of zombies. Commtouch ranks China sixth in the world. Yet the Chinese zombies don’t seem to be exporting nearly as much spam to the world as Russian zombies. The Great Firewall of China may explain the difference.

Dubbed the “Golden Shield Project” by Chinese officials, and the Great Firewall of China by others, it may be more successful at email censorship nowadays than it has been characterized in the past. Unlike China, Russia allows the unfettered flow email out of its national Internet boundaries. Thus, together with corruption and tons of zombies at the ready, the free flow of email without censorship may explain why we’ve experienced no let-up from Russia spammers.

What do you think? Why else does Russian spam continue unimpeded?

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