Phishing, Vioxx Top 2004's Most Popular Spam

Jeff Berg
DULLES, Va. — Spammers changed their tactics during 2004, according to America Online’s “Top 10 Spam Terms” list, adopting hot stock deals as a viable method of gaining interest, using less adult-oriented themes and moving away from using image-based spam to include more text.

The list, compiled by AOL’s Antispam and Postmaster teams, also indicates a marked rise in phishing attacks, with at least three of the top 10 subject lines related to known phishing attacks.

The ranking of the one adult-related subject on the list rose from its ninth-place position in 2003 with “Hot XXX action,” to fourth place this year, with the more widespread “STEAMY HOT LESBIAN ACTION LIVE ON CAMERA!”

Banned arthritis medication Vioxx, taken off the market in late September, pulled in at first place this year, taking the crown of 2003’s “Viagra online.”

The release of the list coincides with the reversal of the accelerating spam trend announced earlier this week by AOL. According to the Internet giant, the amount of spam sent over the past 12 months dropped roughly 75 percent.

“There is simply much less spam to be served up as members gather for the holidays around the family computer and their email inbox,” said Carl Hutzler, director of antispam operations at AOL. “Our members are telling us they are getting less spam than ever on AOL, and we’re seeing a substantial drop in the number of spam messages reaching AOL members’ spam folders.”

“That means one thing,” Hutzler said. “Many spammers are raising the white flag of surrender for the first time since 1999.”

According to AOL, the days of the “small-time” spammer have ended, and now the spam market is dominated by a few “hardcore, kingpin spammers,” which the company says it intends to target in 2005.

“The kind of spammer sending has […] undergone a ‘virtual makeover,’” stated AOL in its report, noting that the ones left have become “sophisticated, nefarious, shadowy, devious, deceitful, sneaky, malicious and […] dedicated.”

According to, which operates the Register of Known Spam Operations, a database which collects, organizes and analyzes spam messages, roughly 80 percent of spam can be traced back to about 200 organizations.

“These spam operations consist of an estimated 500 to 600 professional spammers with ever-changing aliases and domains,” wrote Spamhaus. “The vast majority of those […] operate illegally and move from network to network, and country to country, seeking out ‘spam-fiend’ Internet Service Providers known for lax enforcing of anti-spam policies.”

Currently, the number of spam reports received each day by AOL is only about 2.2 million, a significant decrease from 2003’s average of 11 million reports.

AOL’s Top 10 Spam Email Subject Lines of 2004

1. “We carry the most popular medications”

2. “You’ve been sent an Insta-Kiss!”

3. “You have 17 New Pictures”


5. “All orders are shipped from authorized locations”

6. “2005 Digital Cable Filters”

7. “F R E E* 30 Second Pre-Qualification MORTGAGE Application”

8. “HURRY HURRY Hot Stock on the RISE”


10. “Breaking news on the Top Pick stock”