Researchers Become Spammers To See How Successful Spam Is

from the it's-a-hard-day's-work dept

There have been plenty of stories over the years about the people who buy from spam, with various studies showing surprisingly high percentage of people admitting to buying from spam. Of course, that’s just seeing how many people have ever bought from spam, rather than how many people respond to a single spam campaign. I’ve seen estimates before (usually in the range of a quarter of a percent), but very little actual data, until now. The latest research on the topic comes from some computer scientists at the University of California (both Berkeley and San Diego), who actually took over a zombie network to send out bogus spam and watched the fake orders roll in.

Except that they didn’t actually get that many orders. They sent out 350 million spam messages, and received a grand total of 28 orders. The fake pharma website they set up just returned an error message when someone tried to place an order, so the actual numbers could be even lower. If any of the credit cards were fake or stolen, then you could imagine that a real spammer would bring in even fewer orders. Though, the real spammer would also likely send out many more messages as well. But, even accepting the researchers’ numbers, they found that the full zombie network they used could probably bring in about $7k per day, or about $2 million per year.

That actually seems fairly low for a massive spam operation, and suggests that spam might not be as profitable as it once was (assuming that earlier reports on spam earnings were accurate). It would make sense that spam is becoming less and less profitable, as users become more sophisticated, and less prone to ordering from spam messages. There are still plenty of suckers out there, but once someone is educated not to buy from spam (or has a bad experience buying from spam), the pool of suckers declines rapidly. Of course, we all know the real profit in spam these days isn’t in selling fake drugs, but in pump and dump stock scams anyway…

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Comments on “Researchers Become Spammers To See How Successful Spam Is”

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Ryan (profile) says:


it seems low until you look at the cost of sending spam.

If I hack your email account, I can send out millions of emails from it for no cost what so ever.

The current going rate for an email account on the black market is less than $1.

If I have a bot net, or write a virus to do it, my cost per spam blast is very minimal.

If it costs me $20 to send out my spam blast, and 1 person buys, I profit.

It only takes .01% return rate to be profitable.

For more information see the book called “inside the spam cartel” published by Syngress. It’s written by a former spammer.

hegemon13 says:

Define 'spam'

I am sure these numbers are off, simply because most people call any advertisement email “spam.” I signed up for a couple of electronics websites to send me all their sales. I like both companies, and I like a good deal on computer/electronics stuff. If I buy from them, it’s not buying from spam. However, many people, like my grandparents, would call those emails spam even though they signed up to receive them. Unless these surveys are giving every participant a thorough education of what the word actually means, and then testing to ensure they understand, I don’t believe it. Buying from spam is getting an email that says B u7 v1@ g R@!, and then actually following the link to do it.

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