Not content to let the ZDnet article go away, I still have a bit more to say about spammer economics. Sam Masiello of MXLogic writes on his blog some estimates about how much money a spammer makes and what his potential return on investment is using some very reasonable numbers. An excerpt:
Let's do some math (everyone's favorite subject):
Number of spam messages per day on the internet: 150B (industry estimate)
Cost to send a spam message $0.000001 (estimate)
Amount in losses from phishing in 2008: $4B (estimated by Gartner)
So, if you assume 150B spam messages per day at $0.000001 per spam message. That works out to spam costing spammers approximately $150,000 per day to send.
If you divide the $4B in losses from phishing ALONE by 365 (the number of days in a year) you get almost $11M per day in losses! This doesn't even include profits from the things the things that we mentioned at the start of this post such as porn and enhancement pills or even stolen credit cards and compromised bank and brokerage accounts. Cha-Ching!
While math isn't my favorite subject (it's actually statistics, a branch of mathematics), the numbers above are reasonable. Certainly, spammers have a business model wherein they have reasonably low overhead compared to a traditional business. However, in terms of social overhead, it's very high. Can you imagine someone asking you what you do for a living and you say that you're a spammer?
It's like that episode on the Simpsons where a guy introduces himself to Homer and he says what he does (I forget what, exactly, my memory escapes me... I think he invented something) and then Homer right away punches the guy in the face. The guy snaps his head to the right and then turns back to face Homer, rubbing his sore face. He says "I get that a lot." I can imagine that spammers would go through the very same thing.