How Do Spam Emails Originate?


The origin of spam emails and the interaction of the involved actors is being researched by Oliver Hohlfeld from the RWTH Chair of Computer Science 4, Communication and Distributed Systems, together with scientists from the University of California in Santa Barbara. The project partners presented their research results at a symposium on computer security in Kyoto.


Spam processes proceed secretely; those involved cannot be directly observed, making many aspects unclear," said Hohlfeld. He adds, "Our research results prove that spammers are apparently developing a type of "customer loyalty": over a period of six months, the observed spammers used the same botnet to distribute their mails. Spammers also used email lists over a longer period of time. Thus, we think that spammers purchase preferred resources from actors, who have "proven" themselves in the past. The partners in Santa Barbara examined the market economy of the email address market in preparatory work: 1 million email addresses were offered on the examined forum for anywhere ranging between 20 and 40 Euros.

The research results are based on a platform that Hohlfeld created in 2009 at TU Berlin: If an address collector visits one of the internet pages created by the scientists, an email address is only shown a single time on the internet. This allows scientists to follow when and where the address was collected. Combined with a process developed in Santa Barbara used to recognize botnets and processes for identifying spam advertising campaigns, the scientists were able to investigate the interaction of the different actors for the first time.


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