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The Great Spam Experiment

Cadzow conducted an experiment to track spam volumes over a period of time.

To do this, on 16/04/2004 we created 7 new mailboxes which are used only for this experiment. They were placed on the internet thus:

  1. On our public website as a clickable hyperlink;

  2. On our public website as a clickable hyperlink (all received emails will send a read receipt and download inline graphics);

  3. On our public website as unclickable text;

  4. Used as reply address in newsgroup posting;

  5. Placed in body of newsgroup posting; and

  6. Placed in body of newsgroup posting obscured as “(alias) at cadzow dot com dot au”; and

  7. Used to subscribe to an IT-related website.

The winner of the first hit was the mailbox posted as a newsgroup post reply-to address which received a virus (W32/[email protected]) after about 6 hours.

The runner-ups were the clickable and unclickable links on the website which both received the same message on 19/04/2004.

And, just for fun, we also tracked spam messages sent to non-existent mailboxes at our domain name. This is an increasingly popular way for spammers to get their message out because it doesn't even involve knowing any real addresses. They simply send emails to random names at domains. Domains are publicly known, so fetching a list of domains is quite easy. This can explain why people who set up a domain name start receiving spam almost immediately if the domain hosting provider is collecting “stray” mail.

The experiment ended in June 2011. Spam arriving in inboxes reduced to virtually nothing due to the aggressive filtering and black-listing employed by ISPs and other service providers.

Results

PeriodWeb: Clickable HyperlinkWeb: Clickable Hyperlink (Read Receipts)Web: Unclickable TextNewsgroups: Reply AddressNewsgroups: Message BodyNewsgroups: Message Body (Obscured)Web Site SubscriptionStray Mail
April 20041014000
May 200401113000
June 200476521000544
July 200411011000265
August 200400012000286
Sept 20040210000128
October 20040008000139
Nov 20040002000201
Dec 20040113000144
Jan 20050001000126
Feb 2005342200099
March 2005113200087
April 2005111100076
May 20055421100103
June 200514341000189
July 200515561000118
August 20051014000098
Sept 20058460000120
October 200513210000155
Nov 2005511100082
Dec 2005620000097
Jan 200616241000248
Feb 200621120000197
March 2006511151000219
April 2006280130000465
May 2006410170000897
June 20068107400001286
July 20067606500001165
August 20068207110001288
Sept 20064704300001431
October 20068704900002292
Nov 20061300105000026430
Dec 20069408110003986
Jan 200775459160003496
Feb 200758278300003656
March 200768325220003537
April 200740132220002713
May 200733137190002337
June 2007540185320003483
July 200712003241010006916
August 2007268353814900011218
Sept 20071541246860007538
October 200751173150003263
November 200727135110002104
Dec 20073409760002277
Jan 20081736850001306
Feb 200866068240003792
March 2008914104450004441
April 2008801104280014628
May 200872195150003906
June 2008401254191002681
July 2008372357213002605
August 200831034190001642
September 2008721049311002900
October 2008411742291002236
November 20081471515000583
December 2008441516000251
January 200932166000199
February 20092092000124
March 200910124000174
April 2009717457000723
May 20091022417000826
June 20091913018000778
July 200920103128000384
August 20091482326000263
September 20091852423000284
October 2009111710000174
November 20096275000147
December 2009140148000312
January 2010601610000280
February 20101212311000205
March 20101121613000333
April 20101501319000400
May 20101308150001071
June 201013013150001366
July 2010701423000786
August 20101311519000313
September 20101101310000207
October 201062127100111
November 20106093000160
December 201050119000131
January 20111341014000185
February 20119468000125
March 20111015500082
April 20118097000108
May 2011509300061
June 2011008300066

Yearly Totals

YearWeb: Clickable HyperlinkWeb: Clickable Hyperlink (Read Receipts)Web: Unclickable TextNewsgroups: Reply AddressNewsgroups: Message BodyNewsgroups: Message Body (Obscured)Web Site SubscriptionStray Mail
2004 †1215121040003110
2005812830101001350
20067544539400039904
200798217172950900052538
20085658270526760130971
2009125322712040004388
201011861631541005363
2011 (Half Year)4594740000627

As of the end of 2007, this is a 189% year-on-year increase from 2004. However, since the spam only started to arrive in bulk in 2006, it makes more sense to compare 2007 with 2006, in which case it is a 35% increase. (See also Spam/Phishing — What's Happening Lately? (2007) and Spam/Phishing — What's Happening Lately? (2009).)

† Extrapolated to full year.

Chart!


The right-hand scale (red) is all spam received, including stray mail.
The left-hand scale (blue) is spam received only by named mailboxes.
The black line is the linear trend.

Conclusions

  • Putting an email on a website will attract a steady stream of spam. Whether the email is clickable or not seems to make only a small difference.

  • Posting to newsgroups invites a quick burst of spam and then it peters away.

  • The worst attractor of spam is a stray mail collector on a domain name.

  • Spam delivered to Inboxes has diminished to a trickle due to ISP and hosting-provider spam filtering, blacklists and so on.

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