NPR logo How Much Can A Spammer Pocket A Day? You'd Be Surprised

Economy

How Much Can A Spammer Pocket A Day? You'd Be Surprised

In the March issue of Wired magazine, Julie Rehmeyer dissects research on spamming from Berkeley's International Computer Institute and University of California San Diego.

Researcher Chris Kanich wanted to answer the simple question, "How much could a spammer possibly make from their trade?"

A computer screen inbox displaying unsolicited emails known as "spam." Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

A computer screen inbox displaying unsolicited emails known as "spam."

Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

To find out, Kanich and his team overtook a botnet — or hive of computers that are used for spamming — and essentially created their own spam network. They redirected users who fell for the spam to a website that looked like a real Internet pharmacy, except instead of taking their credit card number it gave them an error message.

The researchers came up with a long equation that took into account, among other things, the number of messages sent a day (1.7 million), the number of people who fell for the the spam (.0127 percent) and the average price of the "pills" they were selling ($70 to $225.)

They found that at the end of the day, they could have made $7,000 a day running a full-service spam operation.

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