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updated 12/7/2011 3:09:16 PM ET 2011-12-07T20:09:16

Global spam levels have dropped to their lowest point in three years, and now make up just 70.5 percent of all emails, according to Symantec's new Intelligence Report.

This is a significant decline from July 2010, when Symantec detected 230 billion spam messages in daily circulation, a number that accounted for 90 percent of all global email. It is the lowest recorded spam level since November 2008, when spam made up 68 percent of all emails, Symantec said in its report.

Pharmaceutical spam, a mainstay of spammers' arsenals, has also fallen off; although it is still the most common category, it accounts now for 35.5 percent of spam compared with the end of last year, when it made up 64.2 percent of spam emails. Other top spam categories include watches and jewelry, adult/sex/dating, weight loss and casino/gambling.

Symantec's report suggested that the decrease in spam volume may be a result of the recent takedowns of the Rustock and Coreflood botnets, massive international networks of spam-spewing computers that the FBI disarmed earlier this year.

While it's refreshing to receive fewer spam messages, targeted malware attacks and advanced persistent threats (APT) are both on the rise. This could speak to a dangerous trend of cybercriminals targeting specific companies' intellectual property rather than blanketing the Web with spam.

"Targeted malware in general has grown in volume and complexity in recent years, but as it is designed to steal company secrets, it can be very difficult for recipients to recognize," the report explained.

Targeted attacks are still rare — one in 255 emails contained malware, but only one in 8,300 were "actual highly targeted attacks that could lead to an ATP," Symantec said. Even so, the statistics show that these types of cyberattacks have jumped fourfold since January.

To protect your personal information from identity thieves and spammers, make sure you run anti-virus software on your computer, encrypt your sensitive data, especially on removable USB drives, and use a strong password as your first line of defense.

© 2012 SecurityNewsDaily. All rights reserved

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