Researchers at Kaspersky Lab have recorded a mass mailing of spam emails containing a link to a video advertisement on YouTube. Although in the past, spammers have attempted to lure people into clicking links by claiming the link would display a YouTube video, this is the first case in which the link actually does point to YouTube. In this particular incident, the video in question is a Russian ad promoting industrial real estate.

Two years ago, Kaspersky Lab predicted that YouTube would eventually become a vector for disseminating spam due to its worldwide popularity. However, this is the first time the video-sharing site has been used in this way as far as the researchers can tell.

Says Darya Gudkova, Head of Content Analysis & Research at Kaspersky Lab, "naturally, this type of advertising is more interesting and gets more hits." That's bad news for YouTube because when something works, spammers keep at it... with a vengeance. Once word gets around that video spam is more successful than traditional methods, there's no doubt that it will only increase.

How Would YouTube Handle Video Spam?

So what will YouTube do if video spam becomes a real problem on its network? We would like to think that it would take the offending content down, but that could be easier said than done. After all, this isn't like the copyrighted content that their Content Identification tool can easily identify and remove. That tool works by comparing unique signatures somewhat like a digital "fingerprint" from a content owner's copyrighted file to user uploads across the site. Then, if a match occurs, the copyright holder has the option to have the video taken down.

Identifying a spammer's video would be much harder. Just because someone is using YouTube to sell something, that doesn't necessarily mean it's video "spam." That moniker should only be reserved for videos which are truly undesirable messages where fraudulent activities are underway. The question is, how would YouTube know?

Assuming that video spam takes off, the best thing the site could do to police online content is to include a "report spam" button for videos themselves, as it now has for video comments only. 

Of course, for potential victims of video spam, the best thing is not to get duped into visiting YouTube in the first place. Spam filters will simply have to adapt to this new technique. Unfortunately, that will be yet another challenge for Google, which, in addition to owning YouTube, also offers a feature in its webmail product Gmail that automatically embeds any YouTube videos referenced in the email directly in the message itself. That makes it even more convenient for video spammers, who wouldn't have to convince their victims to leave their inbox and launch a new browser window: just click a button on the video embedded below.