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McAfee: Watch out for 'island-hopping' spam

Small, tropical islands are becoming a favored home for junk e-mailers, the security company's researchers have found.

McAfee's antispam researchers have been tracking a trend they've nicknamed "spam island-hopping."

Some spammers are using the domain names of small islands for Web site links in their junk e-mail campaigns, the security company said. McAfee has traced spam activity related to the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and the tropical island of Tokelau, amongst others.

Traditionally, spammers have used well-known top-level domains such as .com, .biz or .info in their campaigns. By using top-level domains from small island countries, they attempt to avoid detection, as these domains are typically unknown to spam filters.

Using a lesser-known top level domain makes it harder to distinguish spam from legitimate e-mail by examining the links in the messages, according to McAfee.

The trend was discovered when McAfee researchers noticed a significant increase in the use of .st, the top-level domain for Sao Tome and Principe, an island off the west coast of Africa, the company said.

Junk e-mail using top-level domains from small islands continues to increase, it added.

"This new trend is another example of spammers' relentless quest to spread their abuse of Internet domains far and wide," said Guy Roberts, the senior development manager for McAfee Anti-Spam Research and Development Team. "Some of these islands have dozens of spammed domains per square mile."

McAfee has identified the following small islands as favored by spammers: Tokelau, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Tuvalu, American Samoa, the Isle of Man, Tonga, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Tom Espiner reported for ZDNet UK in London.