Spam promoting replica watches, pens and cheap jewelry has taken over from spam pushing male enlargement and sexual performance pills as the leading items for sale by spammers according to new data released by Marshal's TRACE security team. This breaks a two-year reign of health-related spam which has previously accounted for 75-80 percent of all spam in circulation based on Marshal's statistics.

According to Marshal's TRACE team, the trend towards product spam rather than health or remedy spam reflects the increased sophistication and maturity of the spam market.

"Health spam has accounted for the vast majority of spam since we started keeping records about its composition two years ago. This trend towards items such as jewellery and software suggests that the spammers may be starting to increasingly understand their customers' buying behavior and the wider appeal of certain products," said Bradley Anstis, Marshal Vice President of Products.

The percentage of health spam (promoting pharmaceutical products and herbal remedies) in circulation has been eroded by substantial growth in the volume of product spam (promoting pirated software, replica watches and knock-off clothing labels).

Since January this year, the proportion of health spam in Marshal's spam traps has steadily reduced from 80 to 45 percent, while product spam has grown from 12 to 46 percent in the same period. Together the two categories account for more than 90 percent of all spam in circulation.

"A handful of major spammers are behind this shift in spam. They have the power to change the global make-up of spam thanks to sizeable botnets under their control," said Anstis.

Major botnets such as Pushdo, Mega-D and Srizbi for example are responsible for this current trend. They are being used to send out huge volumes of spam promoting replica products.

"There is an alarming level of consistency in the products being promoted across different botnets," said Anstis. "It is clear that a small number of unprincipled operators are using these top spam botnets to push their products under brands such as Prestige Replicas, Exquisite Footwear, Canadian Pharmacy and Herbal King.

"The shift in focus from remedies to product replicas suggests that the spammers have begun to appreciate differing levels of consumer confidence in the various products being promoted. Spammers might be thinking that counterfeit watches and pirated software have greater mainstream appeal with a wider audience than dubious pharmaceuticals that few people believe are effective," continued Anstis.

Marshal also noted that a greater variety of counterfeit products are being promoted, some convincingly faking the genuine articles on legitimate looking Web sites.

"In the past, the kinds of replica products on offer were limited mainly to watches ripping off brands like Rolex or Tag Heuer. More recently we have seen spammers branch out into a wider range of designer products like handbags, shoes, pens and other accessories ripping off brands like Ugg, Prada, Versace and Dior," said Anstis.