Spam traffic shrinks 20% as Russian spammer goes on the run

Levels of global junk email have fallen by a fifth after a Russian spamming operation was shut down.

You might not have noticed, but there have been fewer spam messages churning round the internet every day over the past few weeks. In fact, 50 billion fewer junk emails.

Spammers are resourceful, hard to find, and have vast networks of infected computers at their disposal to pass on emails.

But it seems that once you do start searching in the right place, the improvements can be fast and dramatic.

Officials say the recent fall in spam emails is because the world's most prolific spammer is on the run.

Police are now looking for 31-year-old businessman Igor Gusev. He is thought to be the biggest single spammer in the world.

Andrey Nikishin from Kaspersky Lab’s Internet Security Department hopes Gusev will be caught pretty soon.

Although no pictures of him are available, Gusev is suspected of flooding the web with bogus marketing.

“According to the law, he might get as much as five years in prison for this kind of crime,” said Marina Turfakina from the Investigative Committee. “We can't tell at this point how much money he has in his accounts. He's considered the biggest spammer based on his revenues and the number of messages he was sending.”

Gusev used the websites Spamit.com and Glavmed.com, which supposedly paid spammers to promote fake versions of prescription drugs, often quite lewdly. Anyone who responded to the emails would be paying to further the scam, rated as the internet's largest such operation.

But with a Russian police investigation closing in on Gusev, he is thought to have fled the country.

Searches of the seven removable hard drives, four flash cards and three laptops found in his Moscow apartment may bring charges related to his online empire, which reportedly made him over a millions dollars.

Both Gusev and his lawyer have denied he promotes spam.

But now that he is gone, the amount of prescription drug-related junk mail has dropped significantly, amounting to a fifth less daily spam traffic worldwide.

“Spam itself is a big problem for everyone, so from this point of view, yeah, it is pretty dangerous, and currently they noticed a decrease in the number of spam, especially pharmaceutical spam,” Nikishin said.

Computer security companies, however, are being cautious, warning that spam volumes could quickly spring back to their previous levels.