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The Tricks of the Trade:
What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful?
Jane Iedemska, Gianluca Stringhini, Richard Kemmerer,
Chris...
Spamming Botnets
The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 2
Which elements influence the success of
...
Success in Spamming
Botnets are a distributed system
The throughput of the system is important
We consider a spammer succe...
Motivation
Are we helping the bad guys?
Understanding the important elements in
running a botnet allows us to:
• Identify ...
The Cutwail Botnet
In 2010 we participated to an attempted takedown
We obtained access to 24 C&C servers
• 30% of the botn...
The Cutwail
Manual
Guidelines for the “good” spammer
Spammers are advised to
• Choose wisely between text and HTML
• Clean up their email lis...
Mathematical model
The Cutwail developers provide a mathematical model
on how to optimize the operation of the botnet
Elem...
Successful
Spammers
Assessing successful spammers
We look at the fraction of emails successfully sent
• Top 10% - Successful campaigns (25B em...
Important settings
Good “housekeeping”
• Clean up email lists for nonexisting addresses
• Limit bots to 5,000 at most
Bots...
Bot country distribution
Previous research showed that bots located in
certain countries are more expensive
[Caballero et ...
Sanity check on past research
Tamper with spammers cleaning up email lists
[Stringhini et al., USENIX 2012]
Use network er...
Conclusions
Elements that make a spam campaign successful
Successful spammers leverage experience rather than advice
A wea...
Questions?
gianluca@cs.ucsb.edu
@gianlucasb
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The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful?

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Spam is a profitable business for cybercriminals, with the revenue of a spam
campaign that can be in the order of millions of dollars. For this
reason, a wealth of research has been performed on understanding how spamming
botnets operate, as well as what the economic model behind spam looks like.

Running a spamming botnet is a complex task: the spammer needs to manage the
infected machines, the spam content being sent, and the email addresses to be
targeted, among the rest. In this paper, we try to understand which factors
influence the spam delivery process and what characteristics make a spam
campaign successful. To this end, we analyzed the data stored on a number of
command and control servers of a large spamming botnet, together with the
guidelines and suggestions that the botnet creators provide to spammers to
improve the performance of their botnet.

Veröffentlicht in: Ingenieurwesen, Technologie, News & Politik
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The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful?

  1. 1. The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? Jane Iedemska, Gianluca Stringhini, Richard Kemmerer, Christopher Kruegel, and Giovanni Vigna University of California, Santa Barbara
  2. 2. Spamming Botnets The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 2 Which elements influence the success of a spam operation?
  3. 3. Success in Spamming Botnets are a distributed system The throughput of the system is important We consider a spammer successful if most of his emails are sent correctly We do not consider human factors Previous research [Kanich et al., CCS 2008] The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 3
  4. 4. Motivation Are we helping the bad guys? Understanding the important elements in running a botnet allows us to: • Identify new research directions • Run a “sanity check” on past research The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 4
  5. 5. The Cutwail Botnet In 2010 we participated to an attempted takedown We obtained access to 24 C&C servers • 30% of the botnet • Each server rent by a different spammer • Detailed statistics on the spammers’ campaigns Details in [Stone-Gross et al., LEET 2011] The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 5
  6. 6. The Cutwail Manual
  7. 7. Guidelines for the “good” spammer Spammers are advised to • Choose wisely between text and HTML • Clean up their email lists from non-existing addresses • Do not use too many bots (2,000-3,000 are good) • Run campaigns for a short time The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 7
  8. 8. Mathematical model The Cutwail developers provide a mathematical model on how to optimize the operation of the botnet Elements that positively influence success: Duration of campaign, email addresses that exist, bandwidth of the bots Elements that negatively influence success: Size of email messages, time taken to generate an email The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 8 The mathematical model is invalid
  9. 9. Successful Spammers
  10. 10. Assessing successful spammers We look at the fraction of emails successfully sent • Top 10% - Successful campaigns (25B emails) • Bottom 10% - Failed campaings (5B emails) We use these two sets as ground truth The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 10
  11. 11. Important settings Good “housekeeping” • Clean up email lists for nonexisting addresses • Limit bots to 5,000 at most Bots have bad Internet connections Instruct bots to retry sending emails multiple times The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 11
  12. 12. Bot country distribution Previous research showed that bots located in certain countries are more expensive [Caballero et al., USENIX 2011] The country of the bots does not influence their spamming capability Successful spammers purchased cheaper bots The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 12
  13. 13. Sanity check on past research Tamper with spammers cleaning up email lists [Stringhini et al., USENIX 2012] Use network errors for spam detection [Kakavelakis et al., LISA 2011] Use geographical distance of bots and victims [Hao et al., USENIX 2009] The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 13
  14. 14. Conclusions Elements that make a spam campaign successful Successful spammers leverage experience rather than advice A wealth of research already targets the important element in a spam campaign We hope that this paper will help researchers in developing techniques that hit spammers where it hurts the most The Tricks of the Trade: What Makes Spam Campaigns Successful? 14
  15. 15. Questions? gianluca@cs.ucsb.edu @gianlucasb

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