March 15, 2013 at 8:04 PM ET
There are always a few streets in town that you want to avoid late at night, and it turns out that the Internet is the same way. According to a new study, just a few places in the world account for a huge amount of spam and malicious attacks. These are the Internet's "bad neighborhoods."
The study (summarized here) is the thesis of Giovane Moura at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. His idea was to find out whether the bulk of scams and spam on the Internet could be contained without going through computers' individual IP addresses one by one and weeding out the bad ones.
The study shows that bad neighborhoods exist on the Web, just as they do in the real world: Just 20 countries produce about three quarters of all spam.
He suggests that instead of going door to door, as it were, looking for criminals, we could set up a sort of neighborhood watch in high-Internet-crime areas — or avoid them altogether if necessary.
So where are these shady back alleys of the Internet? It depends on what you're looking for and how you look. If it's straight-up spam you want, India and Vietnam are the worst by a good margin. If you want to know where the highest concentration of spammers per Internet address is, that would be Spectranet in Nigeria, where 62 percent of all addresses are spamming.
America is no innocent bystander, either. The U.S. absolutely dominates the world in phishers: Out of the 20 ISPs serving the most phishing scams, 16 are in the U.S.
Moura concludes that these bad neighborhoods are reliable and heavy producers of spam and other Internet misdemeanors. As such, any traffic or mail originating in one should be handled with care by administrators and spam filters. Perhaps, he suggests, if we take action against the whole neighborhood, the neighborhood will try to improve its own standing — and in the process wipe out a huge chunk of the world's spam.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.