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Spam hits a 12-year low as hackers move to new schemes

Aaron Pressman

Some rare good news on the hacking front arrived Friday, courtesy of Internet security firm Symantec (SYMC).

The firm tracks all different kinds of threats circulating online and issues monthly reports. And in June, less than half of all email -- 49.7% was spam. That's the lowest level of spam in 12 years.

The dip likely reflects the fact that email just isn't as central as it used to be -- and hackers have realized that there aren't as many suckers out there checking their inboxes and falling for the plea from a Nigerian prince whose millions of dollars are trapped unless they immediately wire him $10,000.

And for the bad news: While spam is declining, other dangerous forms of software are expanding and spreading, as hackers, the ultimate Darwinian warriors, grow more sophisticated and adopt new hacking methods.

Just this week, Adobe patched three security holes in Flash that could allow hackers to take control of people's computers surreptitiously.

Malware programs like those that exploited the Flash weakness are on the upswing, Symantec reports. There were 57.6 million separate new malware variants created in June, up from 44.5 million created in May and 29.2 million in April.  "With the continued drops in email-based malicious activity, attackers are simply moving to other areas of the threat landscape," notes Symantec threat analyst Ben Nahorney in the report.

And, of course, mobile is where everyone has gone, so mobile is where the hackers are going, too. Malware is found in apps, as well. Last week security researchers found two Android games were actually designed to steal Facebook passwords. Cowboy Adventure was downloaded over 1 million times and Jump Chess a few thousand times before being yanked from the store.

Google (GOOGL) reviews programs for security before allowing them into the Android app store, but these programs were able to bypass the scan by altering their own source code, in essence converting from benign to malign, after being installed on phones.

There may be a lot less spam in the future, but the risks from hackers haven't gone away. They've just shifted to go where the action is.