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E-Mail Spam: So 2008?

We are all familiar with the stereotypical spam emails containing temptations along the lines of “Someone has a crush on you!” or “80% Discount on Viagra,” but how many of us would seriously ponder clicking on an included link? It’s not even the old “too good to be true” rationale, but more akin to common sense. Clicking on links from unknown sources just seems unwise, just as getting into the unidentified van of a complete stranger is probably not the best idea either. Luckily, few do, but here is the real surprise: it only takes a handful to keep spammers in business.

Let’s concentrate on pharmaceutical spam, analyzed in the 2008 study Spamalytics: An Empirical Analysis of Spam Marketing Conversion. In a not-so-subtly-named post from the same year, “OK, so who are the idiots that respond to spam email?,” author Adrian Kingsley-Hughes reiterates the statistics that found that out of 350 million experimental emails sent, 28 sales resulted. We’ll assume that this means that 28 individuals purchased.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot: .0000081 percent, in fact, a dismal result in most ventures. With, however, an average purchase price nearing $100, the sales can add up quickly, particularly when keeping in mind that many more than 350 million emails go out every day. The actual Storm botnet could garner upwards of $7000 in daily revenue, or $3.5 million per year. Despite operating costs and factoring in the possibility of affiliate programs as a cost-cutting tactic, spammers emerge with a slim, but still profitable, margin.

Think, though, of the cost to the non-purchasing remainder of the email-checking population—not only junk mail flooding inboxes, but viruses spread, data stolen, productivity diminished. As long as the method remains lucrative, botnets will continue to be created. How, then, to appeal to those 28 out of 350 million people? What leads people to click on links in questionable emails? Have you fallen victim to spam, or what proactive measures do you take to ensure you never do? With advanced spam filters in webmail, do you even give spam a second thought these days (remember, this study was conducted in 2008)? As a new tech-savvy generation becomes the target Viagra-buying audience, will that profit margin continue to grow smaller and smaller, or will cybercriminals adjust their schemes to attract new victims?

Links:

‘Who are the idiots’ article: http://blogs.zdnet.com/hardware/?p=2987

“Study: Viagra Spam Is Profitable, but Margins Are Tight”: http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/153575/study_viagra_spam_is_profitable_but_margins_are_tight.html (PDF of the study can also be downloaded here.)

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