How to make spammming a profitable business opportunity

Tags: Opinion
It is estimated that over 120 billion spam messages are sent each day through email across the world. Recently, a study by scientists from University of California, Berkeley and UC, San Diego (UCSD), tried to investigate whether it was possible to make money by generating spam? Chris Kanich and his colleagues at UCSD infiltrated the “Storm network,” which uses hijacked home PCs to relay much of the spam email you spend your days wading through while wondering who responds to this stuff? Their finding suggests that through spam one could indeed make money.

The UCSD researchers felt that the best way to study spam’s profit was to become a spammer. In fact, they became spammers on the Storm network that had over one million machines under its control at one point. Using “proxy bots” the research team managed to control a large number of hijacked machines to conduct their own fake spam campaigns through the Storm network.

For their study, the researchers used two of the most popular ploys presently used by spammers. First, they offered a fake pharmacy site and second, offering herbal Viagra-style remedy to boost libido. Using the Storm botnet for 26 days, the researchers were able to send out 350,000,000 emails touting their on-line pharmacy. Due to factors such as invalid addresses and blacklists, 82,700,000 emails made it to the computers. Spam filters further reduced this number significantly. Of those emails making it to a person’s inbox, 10,522 users clicked on the link and visited the fake pharmacy. 28 people initiated a purchase averaging $100. At this point, the pharmacy returned an error message, thus preventing the researchers from actually obtaining names and personal credit card information. This came to a daily income of $140 for the campaign. Since the infiltration amounted to only 1.5 per cent of the overall Storm network, this percentage translates to potential revenue of $3.5 million a year for an internet pharmaceutical company using Storm for spam marketing.

The UCSD researchers also used their Storm infiltration to determine how many PCs they could capture to propagate further spam. For this purpose, they sent out 82 million emails advising recipients that someone had sent them a postcard, which could only be viewed by downloading the “postcard” software. Extrapolating their results, they estimate that Storm self-propagation campaigns can recruit between 3500 and 8500 new computers a day. Analysing spam filters and geographical distribution of their results, they concluded that the quality of spam filtering and general anti-spam education were the largest factors driving response rates down. Interestingly, American users seemed most susceptible to the postcard scheme, while French users were most susceptible to the male enhancement scheme.

In summary, opportunities do exist for entrepreneurs with computer skills who want to make spamming a profitable venture.

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