Why Is Spam So Expensive?Written by Jeff on February 14, 2013
I always find it interesting when I stumble across a headline that spam numbers are falling, especially when you see so many surveys of users complaining that they still get too much spam.
But reading an article posted by Forbes actually caught my attention in a different way. Titled Why email spam is on the decline, I figured it was worth a look. After all, most posts that talk about the death, or decline, of junk email messages are often just site numbers and give no real explanation. Having finally stumbled across something that gives some substance to the conversation I figured it was worth a look.
According to the author, spam levels are falling because of cost. When spam was in its heyday, it was cheap to send millions of messages at once so people did. Using everything from a mail server to large botnets, millions of spam emails were pumped out daily. Nowadays it is estimated that the cost-per-click average for spam (the total cost it takes to get one person to click on a spam link) is $4.45. This likely does not include phishing and spear-phishing, just marketing spam.
So where did all the spammers go?
This doesn’t mean that spam has disappeared. It simply means that many have changed to a cheaper medium to deliver junk messages, like social media advertising. Compare the $.10 average cost-per-click that a spammer spends advertising on Facebook and you can see why there are more garbage advertisements on social networks than email when it comes to categories like pharmaceuticals, financial services and counterfeit luxury items.
To whom do we give thanks?
So email spam is fast becoming cost prohibitive for many cyber-scammers, but whom, or what, should we thank for this? Quite frankly, it is a combined effort on behalf of the user and the technology that seeks out and blocks junk email messages.
Over the years, users have become much more adept at spotting spam. People no longer think that they have won a European lottery that they never bought a ticket to, and they are far less trustworthy of buying medicine online without the need for a prescription. As their education level rises, it becomes harder for scammers to trick them. They have to take more time to craft email messages that sound right and they have to use technologies that add a more personal touch to the emails that they use as bait.
Not only are the users smarter, but technology has grown more intelligent as well. In the early days of the war on spam, junk emails were kept at bay by anti-spam filters looking for keywords in the email or the sender’s IP address. However spammers have maneuvered around these countermeasures rather easily and made it much harder to detect their emails. That is until technology caught up with them. Now, the bad guys have to pare down their attacks to a point where they can no longer launch a blanket attack against a list of a million users. Any good anti-spam filter will sniff that out in a second.
The future of spam?
We all know that spam isn’t going away, we can fool ourselves and buy into some of the reports that claim that spam is dying or already dead. But that will just leave us, and our users, vulnerable.
Instead, we should ready ourselves for an uptick in targeted attacks. Like spear-phishers, spammers will likely target their victims more so to increase the likelihood that they will click on a link or buy a product. Using personalization, targeting interests and geographical location and impersonating familiar senders the spammers will be able to stay in business until the users become more familiar with their tactics and the anti-spam solutions are able to direct these messages right into the junk email box.