Last week, National Public Radio aired a story on my Pharma Wars series, which chronicles an epic battle between men who ran two competing cybercrime empires that used spam to pimp online pharmacy sites. As I was working with the NPR reporter on the story, I was struck by how much spam has decreased over the past couple of years. Below is a graphic that’s based on spam data collected by Symantec’s MessageLabs. It shows that global spam volumes fell and spiked fairly regularly, from highs of 6 trillion messages sent per month to just below 1 trillion. I produced this graph based on Symantec’s raw spam data.
Roughly five years after it burst onto the malware scene, the notorious Grum spam botnet has been disconnected from the Internet. Grum has consistently been among the top three biggest sources of junk email, a crime machine capable of blasting 18 billion messages per day and responsible for sending about one-third of all spam.
Consumer demand for cheap prescription drugs sold through spam-advertised Web sites shows no sign of abating, according to a new analysis of bookeeping records maintained by three of the world’s largest rogue pharmacy operations.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, the International Computer Science Institute and George Mason University examined caches of data showing the day-to-day finances of GlavMed, SpamIt, and Rx-Promotion, shadowy affiliate programs that over a four-year period processed more than $170 million worth of orders from customers seeking cheaper, more accessible and more discretely available drugs. The result is is perhaps the most detailed analysis yet of the business case for the malicious software and spam epidemics that persist to this day.
The cybercrime underground is expanding each day, yet the longer I research this subject the more convinced I am that much of it is run by a fairly small and loose-knit group of hackers. That suspicion was reinforced this week when I discovered that the author of the infamous ZeuS Trojan was a core member of Spamdot, until recently the most exclusive online forum for spammers and the shady businessmen who maintain the biggest spam botnets.
Thanks to a deep-seated enmity between the owners of two of the largest spam affiliate programs, the database for Spamdot was leaked to a handful of investigators and researchers, including KrebsOnSecurity. The forum includes all members’ public posts and private messages — even those that members thought had been deleted. I’ve been poring over those private messages in an effort to map alliances and to learn more about the individuals behind the top spam botnets.
A Wikileaks-style war of attrition between two competing rogue Internet pharmacy gangs has exposed some of the biggest spammers on the planet. The latest casualties? Several individuals likely responsible for running Grum, currently the world’s most active spam botnet.