US researchers have uncovered some of the economics of being a junk mailer, according to the BBC. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and UC, San Diego found that spammers are making money despite getting only one response for every 12.5m e-mails they send.
The researchers studied an active spam network, Storm, for a month earlier this year to watch spammers at work. The Storm network uses hijacked computers as relays for junk mail and at its peak, Storm was believed to have more than a million machines activated.
The BBC explains that the seven researchers created several so-called 'proxy bots' that acted as conduits of information between the command and control system for Storm and the hijacked PCs that send out the junk mail.
The team used these machines to control a total of 75,869 hijacked machines and routed their own fake spam campaigns through them.
'After 26 days, and almost 350 million e-mail messages, only 28 sales resulted,' wrote the researchers, quoted by the BBC.
In other words, the response rate for this campaign was less than 0.00001%, way below the average of 2.15% target of legitimate direct mail campaigns. Nevertheless, the researchers wrote, 'Taken together, these conversions would have resulted in revenues of US$2,731.88"”a bit over US$100 a day for the measurement period."
Scaling this up to the full Storm network the researchers estimate that the controllers of the system are netting about US$7,000 (Â£4,430) a day or more than US$2m (Â£1.28m) per year.
The researchers commented that their results suggest that spammers are not making the vast sums of money as portrayed in popular myths and that the small margins could point to ways to render their activities unviable economically.