Ever wonder if anyone responds to those spam marketing e-mails? Wonder no more:

The researchers used two of the most popular ploys currently used by spammers – firstly offering a fake pharmacy site and, secondly, offering a herbal Viagra-style remedy to boost libido.

“After 26 days, and almost 350 million email messages, only 28 sales resulted,” says the research paper.

Yet even with this apparently abysmal response rate of less than 0.00001 per cent, the researchers still estimate that the controllers of a network the size of Storm are still bringing in about $7,000 (£4,430) a day or $3.5m (£2.21m) over a year.

That’s 28 too many. What is wrong with these people?


  1. #1 oldcola
    November 12, 2008

    What is wrong with these people?
    What is the percentage of creationists again? 😉

    Please, could you make your post a little bit more reader friendly?
    Where can we get this herbal (natural, I suppose) Viagra-style (highly efficient, I suppose) libido (not for christians, I suppose) booster (placebo effect, I suppose, 4all of us)?

  2. #2 Flaky
    November 12, 2008

    What I find interesting is that the study borders unethical or even illegal activity. Although their study didn’t cause any additional harm to anyone, they did employ highjacked computers albeit indirectly.

  3. #3 Art
    November 13, 2008

    The solution is simple. Charge $0.002 per e-mail to get it in the system. Every e-mail account initially opened would be charged one dollar and thus get 500 e-mails. After this 1$ was expended the account would need to arrange to pay for more before any more could be sent.

    I suspect the vast majority of e-mail users would never exceed 500 e-mails a month so it would cost far less than $1 a month. I also think the vast majority of people would gladly pay a nominal amount if they could see the vast majority of spam and junk e-mail eliminated.

    Spam only makes economic sense if e-mail is pretty much free. The slightest cost makes mass automated spamming unprofitable.

    As much as admonishing people not to respond to spam sounds like the right thing to do your simply not going to change the human animal. So work the problem from the other end. Add a nominal price to sending an e-mail.

  4. #4 Flaky
    November 13, 2008

    @Art: The email system on the internet doesn’t have any mechanisms for ensuring that such payments have been made. Even if it were feasible to charge money for email, it would likely make it very hard for many people to send emails at all.

    The root cause of the problem really is poorly protected PCs that are easily infected by spam bots, without which spamming would be economically infeasible (excepting the possibility of abusing free email account from the likes of Hotmail) The accusing finger points towards Redmond.

  5. #5 Art
    November 13, 2008

    Nobody is enforcing controls because e-mail is essentially free. People compromised by bots see no benefit to protecting their computer because e-mail is free. And anti-virus programs are expensive and cost time, effort and computing power to run all the time.

    Virus and bot makers long ago learned to make their so the burden on the host computer was minimal. Malware that significantly slows or locks up the computer causes owners to clean their machine. All good parasites know not to kill or debilitate the host. For casual users having a couple of malware bots on board isn’t much of a burden.

    Make people pay for e-mail and the problem goes away. Spammers can’t afford to pay anything. If owners of an infected computer can’t send e-mail because their $1 investment is gone they will have some have motivation to get and keep their computer clean.

    It might kill Hotmail and other free e-mail but they won’t be a big loss. Elimination free e-mail accounts would also be a step in eliminating spammers.

    The only real reason it won’t work is that people don’t want it to. You can dream of a day when all the people are conscientious in keeping their computers clean and nobody answers spam but history shows that adapting systems to human foibles is always easier than changing people.

    We build the e-mail system. We can damn well take it apart and make it do what we want. As it is e-mail is pretty much a useless and wasted resource. I don’t use it simply because it is swamped in spam and useless crap. Long ago I used it and noticed that of every hundred e-mails I sent only four or five got responses. And it was rare for me to even see a useful e-mail through the mound of crap. Filters be damned. They are an inelegant solution. With the time and effort wasted messing with filters everyone could use snail-mail and still save time.

    Everyone I have asked has said they would pay a nominal fee per e-mail, up to a quarter a post in some cases, to have a system without spam.

    Build it and they will come.

  6. #6 Valhar2000
    November 13, 2008

    So each of those idiots spends 250$ on average on this stuff. Truly, the stupid, it burns.

  7. #7 csrster
    November 13, 2008

    What is wrong with these people? Well presumably they have small, non-functional dicks.

  8. #8 Flaky
    November 13, 2008

    @Art: I think that you must be in a small minority here. For me at least email is an invaluable tool that I use frequently and the amount of spam that I receive (a couple per week) is a relatively minor nuisance.

    It would be quite possible to build a system on top of the existing email protocols (thus requiring virtually no infrastructure changes) that works by digital signatures and offers strong encryption, while making spamming economically infeasible, and frankly I’m somewhat amazed that businesses aren’t already using such a system. But I doubt that the general public would find it attractive as it would be more expensive than what email is right now (the expense, no matter how small, might be prohibitive for some groups of people, such as children and people in poor countries), would likely make it impossible to send anonymous email and would generally be harder to setup and to use (without IT-support that is).

    As for security, even security aware users, who always keep their systems up-to-date and consciously avoid doing unsafe things may unwittingly get a spambot infection. The problem is that Windows operating systems do not have adequate security features built into them (other OSes are unimportant because of their marginal market share), which allows relatively small programming mistakes in software such as web browsers to be exploited for highjacking the whole computer. Ordinary users really don’t stand a chance and with a pay-per-email system, they might even be willing to pay minor additional costs accumulated by spam rather than pay to have their operating systems reinstalled (which is often what’s needed these days to get rid of malware).

  9. #9 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 13, 2008

    csrster –


  10. #10 JohnnieCanuck
    November 15, 2008


    29.7% of the people accessing EvolutionBlog don’t use a Microsoft OS, according to the Sitemeter link below.

    As a fairly security conscious user of Macs only, I have gone years without getting any spam. There was a period of time after my 11 yr old used my address at a kid’s site when I got to see how the rest of the world lives, though it was seldom more than a couple a day.

    Thankfully, it is now back to very nearly zero.

    One piece of advice is to use a fairly long email name (9+ letters) and put a period or dash in there. If your mail provider is not effectively preventing dictionary attacks, then jdoe@myisp.c0m, for example, is going to get nailed.

    I once set up an email account with our isp with just my wife’s (unusual) first name, five letters long, as she insisted. She never used it for more than a year, never told anyone or gave it to a website. When she did decide to use it, we found that it was full of spam due to a successful dictionary attack.

  11. #11 JohnnieCanuck
    November 15, 2008

    My link doesn’t work. Use the one below.

  12. #12 Visitor
    November 17, 2008

    Art wrote: “And anti-virus programs are expensive and cost time, effort and computing power to run all the time.”

    However, in reality, home users can get highly effective anti-virus and anti-spyware software FOR FREE, and those programs are SELF-UPDATING so that they require NO effort on the part of the user to maintain, and they are VERY lightweight in regard to the computer resources they require.

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