Spam really not so profitable?

BBC NEWS | Technology | Study shows how spammers cash in

The response rate for this campaign was less than 0.00001%. This is far below the average of 2.15% reported by legitimate direct mail organisations.

“Taken together, these conversions would have resulted in revenues of $2,731.88—a bit over $100 a day for the measurement period,” said the researchers.

Scaling this up to the full Storm network the researchers estimate that the controllers of the vast system are netting about $7,000 (£4,430) a day or more than $2m (£1.28m) per year.

While this was a good return, said the researchers, it did suggest that spammers were not making the vast sums of money that some people have predicted in the past.

They suggest that the tight costs might also open up new avenues of attack on spammers.

The researchers concluded: “The profit margin for spam may be meager enough that spammers must be sensitive to the details of how their campaigns are run and are economically susceptible to new defenses.”

Two missed assumptions here.

First, what are the costs of running a botnet? All the machines belong to someone else, so you need few fulltime programmers and sysadmins, and that’s about it. There’s an awful lot of slack between the cost of that (especially outside the US) and the amount they’re calculating spammers take in.

Second, and more important, the researchers are (apparently) missing the opportunities spammers have for monetizing their reply data well beyond the amount they might get for a single online transaction. They can sell the email addresses of suckers, they can sell their credit-card numbers, their names and home addresses. If they bother to provide the service offered, they can even do repeat business.

This is why so many legitimate direct-mailers offer such nicer teasers: they’re not making the money from selling products to you; they’re making it by selling you to other direct-mailers.

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