As the deadline for compliance with Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) looms, prohibiting the distribution of unsolicited commercial messages, AdaptiveMobile investigated the amount of blocked SMS spam currently being sent to Canadian subscribers. As AdaptiveMobile already blocks a large amount of threats in North America, with this data it is possible to determine the extent to which subscribers have been targeted in the last 6 months.

In the graph above, we show the amount of blocked spam which was destined for a Canadian subscriber during the 6 month period from the beginning of December 2013, to the beginning of June 2014. Each data point on the graph is the weekly percentage of the total threats blocked over the 6 month period. From the graph we can see that in mid-December there was a large adult spam attack against British Columbia subscribers. For 2014 it is clear to see that the amount of spam being sent is increasing, especially for Quebec residents.

With the amount of Canadians being targeted on the rise, AdaptiveMobile analysed the breakdown per province.

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Spam Percentage per Province

By using the area codes of the targeted phone numbers, the Data Analytics and Intelligence Team at AdaptiveMobile were able to create a map of the target areas. From this we can see that Quebec was targeted more than any other province over the period. This is due to a spam campaign against Quebec subscribers in recent months. This spam campaign is mainly composed of aggressively marketed events. The next most targeted provinces are Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

An interesting point on this is that we have previously reported that spam attacks in the ‘Prairie Provinces’ in Canada often matches the population distribution, but this pattern doesn't seem to match all attacks in Canada.

To investigate the distribution further we calculated the blocked spam per city to determine which cities were coming under the most attack. The following Bubble Chart shows the top cities per province that were targeted.


From the bubbles in this illustration it is evident that Montreal is receiving the most spam. This shows that cell phone subscribers in Quebec province are being targeted more than other Canadian subscribers. Montreal gets targeted the most while Toronto, the most populous city in Canada is the 5th most targeted. The large attack we saw against British Columbia in December is explained by the above average attack count on Vancouver.

When we look at some of the most affected cities and include their populations, we see some interesting results:

City Population Percentage of Spam Received
Montreal 1,649,519 34.04%
Vancouver 603,502 9.07%
Quebec City 516,622 5.54%
Edmonton 812,201 4.67%
Toronto 2,615,060 4.11%
Calgary 1,096,833 3.15%


It is clear that that Vancouver and Montreal - receiving 9.07% and 34.04% respectively of all spam received during the 6 month period - are receiving more spam in terms of spam per city population compared to the other cities, as a result of the aforementioned targeted spam attacks.

Finally, to do a breakdown on what type of spam is going where the team at AdaptiveMobile decided to look at the spam categories over the same time period.

For clarity, spam received in Canada was broken down into 4 high-level categories, ‘Adult’, ‘Aggressive Marketing’, ‘Giveaway’ and ‘Other’.

From this we can clearly see the spike in Adult spam around mid-December, when a targeted attack was launched against British Columbia subscribers. Adult spam consists mostly of messages trying to convince the recipient to use a dating or porn website. In earlier research, we had previously shown that attacks such as these may correlate to certain industries prevalent in different parts of central and western Canada. It is also evident that aggressive marketing campaigns have been on the rise in recent months. These are unsolicited messages which aggressively promote some product, website or event, primarily sports. We have noticed that these have mostly been targeted at Quebec subscribers. The Giveaway category includes scam messages which inform you that you have won a lottery or prize, and then instructs you to call a number or visit a website to collect your fictional winnings. The Other category includes all other types of spam, such as pharmaceutical giveaways or payday loan approvals.

Graphing this data below allows you to see the differing regional emphasis of the respective spam types, showing while all spam types are generally seen Canada-wide, the spammers tend to target specific areas for certain attacks:

An interactive globe visualization of this data is available here.

Another area of potential messaging abuse that may be affected by the upcoming CASL legislation are invite messages that are sent by mobile apps on install or user activity, that inform a user's contact list about the app and encourage them to install it. These Growth hacking or appspam messages, profiled in a separate report, generate numerous complaints throughout North America, and Canada is no exception. Within Canada, it is estimated that between 0.59 million to 0.75 million app invites were sent every day in early 2014. These volumes have reduced since then, primarily since during the Growth Hacking report compilation AdaptiveMobile informed the respective app developers of the problems, and recent changes were made by Google to Play Store Polices to address these issues. However, the main apps generating excessive app invites are still active and generating complaints in Canada, and as a result of CASL they may face further pressure to regulate activities seen as spammy.

With the amount of SMS spam being sent to Canadians on the rise, we welcome the new anti-spam legalisation which should help curb this trend by clearly defining what does and does not constitute messaging abuse. This clarity should give subscribers more confidence to report suspected spam attacks they receive, and will give operators additional information to more aggressively pursue spammers on their network, in order to detect and defend against these attacks. AdaptiveMobile will continue to work with all members of the Industry to protect consumers and enterprises against mobile messaging abuse and will report again in the future on the effects of the Anti-Spam Legislation in Canada.