The study from IT security firm Commtouch is based on information continuously gathered by the firm, which analyzed more than two billion messages from over 130 countries during the month of January.
It reports that attacks in January were vicious and varied, 19 new email-born significant virus attacks, of which a troubling eight (42 percent) were graded "low intensity," seven (37 percent) "medium intensity" and four (21 percent) were massive attacks. The extent of this viral rampage was described by the report as "a rare phenomenon for a single month".
"The number of massive attacks grew in January," said Amir Lev, president and chief technology officer. "In large part due to the speed of distribution, they succeeded in reaching many of their targets despite the presence of traditional anti-virus programs."
One of the month's most serious single outbreaks, which was found to consist of seven variants, illustrates how viruses are growing in sophistication. The first variant was launched around Dec. 25 of last year as a low intensity virus, however with subsequently released variant, the attack's intensity grew into a massive outbreak towards the end of the month.
One of the factors measured by Commtouch's report is the speed of distribution. The study rates attacks that peak within eight hours to have "short spans," since it takes an average of eight to 10 hours for a traditional anti-virus vendor to release an updated signature blocking a new virus.
The research indicates that 40 percent of attacks during January met this profile. Also, there was found to be a clear connection between the attack's speed and its intensity -- the faster attacks are the biggest ones: while the average distribution time of low intensity attacks is a "leisurely" 27 hours and medium-intensity attacks can take 17 hours, massive attacks take as little as 5.5 hours to spread in hundreds of millions of emails.
The Commtouch report also monitors spam distribution patterns on a global level. January spam statistics show that 43.18 percent of global spam is sent from U.S.-based sources. China was also found to be a significant "launching pad" for 13 percent of the spam. Korean and German sources distribute about 4 percent of global spam.