by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
money, research, spam

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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  • identicon
    Ryan, 10 Nov 2008 @ 11:09pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Patti, 10 Nov 2008 @ 11:30pm

    Buying from spam

    I'm pretty sure it's not clear what people meant when they said they'd bought stuff from spam. My guess is that when they answered, they didn't differentiate between pharma/big-dick scam spam and opt-in marketing email from reputable companies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 10 Nov 2008 @ 11:50pm

    Only A Little Naughty

    Apparently the researchers made the bots send out their own messages as replacements for the ones the botnet would have sent out anyway. So there were no extra spam messages being generated. And the researchers' messages were not as dangerous as the real spam.

    Or so The Register reports.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2008 @ 1:39am

    Don't waste your time!

    There is no money on the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    hegemon13, 11 Nov 2008 @ 6:12am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    NullOp, 11 Nov 2008 @ 6:27am


    350 million spam and only 28 orders...hmmmm. Methinks real spammers do a bit better than this as I know I get enough of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2008 @ 7:16am

      Re: Spam

      are you saying you buy things from spam?

      most people have good spam filters that they set-up and ignore or are so used to spam that they just click the delete button without thinking.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Damian, 11 Nov 2008 @ 8:58am

    Sounds like a good biz.

    Ok.. This article didn't say how much the bot net cost them. But if they were selling real products (say fake rolex, not dick pills that will make you blind, but things that actually people will appreciate when they get) and they they're making $ 2 Mil a year....

    This looks like what I'll be leaving my job for!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PT, 11 Nov 2008 @ 9:13am


    "-the pool of suckers declines rapidly-"
    What a horrible thing to say! Fortunately, there's a new one born every minute. :-}

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    spammers bite me!, 18 Dec 2008 @ 6:11pm

    get a decent antispam tool and they go broke!

    everyone should have an antispam tool if they do email. send me an email at and i'll send you a cool antispam tool!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MikeyMike, 7 Dec 2010 @ 1:02pm

    Spammer profits

    If anyone know how I can send millions of emails without the isp blocking a personal smtp server ...then let me know

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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