Don't Blame the Chinese for This Digital Threat

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Nov. 23, 2011. Close

Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Nov. 23, 2011.

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Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Nov. 23, 2011.

We know how risky it is to be a smartphone user in China. And we know how creative Chinese spammers are in evading authorities. So guess which country is the biggest source of text-message spam directed at mobile phones in the U.S.?

Guatemala.

For sixteen out of the past eighteen months, Guatemala, known more for its Mayan roots than its mobile industry, has been the top source of those annoying and deceitful messages, according to a new analysis from Cloudmark, a San Francisco-based security firm.

The spamming consists entirely of Spanish-language inducements alerting recipients that they've won cars and cash, and to claim the prizes, they should call this number and provide personal information, according to the company.

What's notable -- other than the fact that it's Guatemala, one of the world's biodiversity hot spots -- is the unusually long time that messages have been coming from phones there. Some devices have been the source of spam for months and in some cases for more than a year, Andrew Conway, a Cloudmark analyst, wrote in an e-mail.

"We have to assume that the anti-abuse measures by carriers in the region are not very effective," Conway said. "In order for the SMS spam volumes for Guatemala to drop, the carriers there would need to take a more aggressive stance on closing down accounts reported as spamming, and filtering outbound content reported as spam."

Usually, when a phone number is reported as sending spam, mobile-phone operators are quick to shut them down and prevent them from sending more, Conway said.

Cloudmark's research found some other revealing statistics. The country sending the second-highest amount of text-message spam into the U.S. last year was Canada, followed by Great Britain, Jamaica and Mexico. China didn't make the top five.

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