Affiliates in a spam network can make $180,000 per year or more, delivering traffic to pharmaceutical sites, online casinos or fake anti-virus web pages, according to SophosLabs.
In a presentation at the Virus Bulletin Conference in Geneva last week, Dmitry Samosseiko, manager of SophosLab in Canada, talked about his interactions with the Russian "Partnerka," a group of spam affiliates. The Partnerka are organizations promoting pharmaceuticals or pushing fake security products and otherwise getting money from spam and related activities.
“Thousands of affiliates, each calling themselves a ‘webmaster,' work day and night to drive as much user traffic to their partners' stores as possible,” Samosseiko said in the research paper he submitted to the conference.
The Partnerka business model attracts thousands of people motivated by the high-earning potential and the opportunity to work from home. Potential spammers must be invited to join a network and are then directed to a site that requires secret credentials. At that point, they're checked out, and those approved are ultimately given a list of sites they can promote.
“If sellers are running a website that is selling cheap drugs, rather than doing all the spamming themselves, they contract out to affiliates,” Richard Wang, manager of SophosLabs U.S., told SCMagazineUS.com on Monday. “Affiliates get paid according to the amount of traffic they send, or collect a commission based on how much is sold.”
Of course, in some cases, the goods being sold are fraudulent or orders are never really fulfilled. In other cases, there will be something delivered, possibly fake, but the affiliates are paid regardless, he said.
“The traffic is accounted for by different mechanisms,” Wang said. “Typically, each affiliate has an ID number. When someone clicks on a link to go through to the selling site, the affiliate ID number is included in the link, so the webmaster running the backend site can tell which affiliate supplied the link.”
The sellers compete for the best affiliates and have developed unique ways to retain their services.
“One of the ways they try to hold on to the affiliates is to not pay them as often,” Wang said. "If an affiliate does not get paid for a month, it's likely they will continue to send traffic for at least a month. And because they can see activity immediately on their sites, they can tell which affiliates are most successful in sending traffic to them.”