E-mail spammers make 7 grand a day. Why the hell are you working a day job when you could be filling peoples inboxes with penis enlargement ads?
After years of receiving and deleting spam mail, Computer Scientist Chris Kanich wondered if spamming email really pays off. So he and a team of curious scientists hijacked a spammer’s botnet and found that yeah, spamming pays off – to the tune of $7000 per day.
Here’s how a botnet works: You’re browsing around the internet, and for whatever reason, you get infected with a virus. It doesn’t do anything overt, not yet anyway, and lingers in your computer. Until one day, the creator of the botnet utilizes a “middleman” virus, a separate virus that hijacks computers to use their bandwidth to contact other infected computers, and tells all infected computers to do as he commands.
This happens on a grand scale; one of the largest botnets, the Mariposa botnet, has over 12.7 million infected computers at its disposal. Botnets can be used to hack passwords, overload websites, and in this case, send spam mail.
Kanich and his buddies at UC San Diego and the International Computer Science Institute went and found one of those middleman viruses, and intentionally infected 8 computers with it. Then they rewrote some of the code, allowing them to hijack the spammer’s army of infected computers. Instead of sending out the usual “Stay Hard Longer!!1!” message, they directed recipients to go to what appeared to be an internet pharmacy. Upon clicking the “Buy Now” button, instead of actually charging for Viagra or logging credit card numbers like would usually happen, an error message would appear, and the click would be logged with the researchers.
Doing some fancy number work, Kanich’s team created an equation for determining how much a spammer can make in a day, based on the numbers they got from their experiment. Of the 1.7 million emails sent, about a quarter actually got sent to a real address. Only a hundredth of a percent of that quarter actually got through the spam filter to get clicked on, and of that hundredth of a percent, only .2% of people were dumb enough to actually attempt to buy the product. Factoring all this together, the team got to their $7000 figure.
That’s a mighty big number, there. Big enough that it gets me to thinking … if you ever notice I’m gone from The Escapist, and suddenly you’re getting more e-mails about free iPad giveaways, there’s a good chance the two are related.