Thursday, May 19, 2011

What's priceless to spammers

Now [a team of computer scientists has] concluded an experiment that is not for the faint of heart: for three months they set out to receive all the spam they could (no quarantines or filters need apply), then systematically made purchases from the Web sites advertised in the messages. ...

It turned out that 95 percent of the credit card transactions for the spam-advertised drugs and herbal remedies they bought were handled by just three financial companies — one based in Azerbaijan, one in Denmark and one in Nevis, in the West Indies. ...

If a handful of companies like these refused to authorize online credit card payments to the merchants, “you’d cut off the money that supports the entire spam enterprise,” said one of the scientists, Stefan Savage of the University of California, San Diego, who worked with colleagues at San Diego and Berkeley. ...

The weak link in the system, the researchers noted, was that the Visa payment system handled the transaction between the customer’s bank in the United States and the bank in Azerbaijan.
--John Markoff, NYT, on spam's dependence on Visa and Mastercard

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