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American 'Workers' No Longer Lead This Multibillion Dollar Gray Market

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A small, landlocked country in Europe has apparently become the number-one global source of spam, says one email and Web security firm.

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Belarus, a country in Eastern Europe bordering Russia and Poland, has pushed the US out of its unenviable spot at the top of a list of the world's most spam-producing nations.

AppRiver, the email and Web security solutions provider, tracked 558.6 million spam emails originating from Belarusian networks since April 2013 compared to just 447.7 million from the US.

The new leader now accounts for 16.3% of all the spam relayed in the world. Belarus is followed by the US (15.1%), Ukraine (7.45%), and China (5.78%).

According to the German UCEPROTECT-Network spam rankings, however, the largest Belarusian countrywide network BELPAK stands at just 10th place globally, far behind the leader, Peru's Telefonica del Peru. The same results (putting Belarus in 10th place) were reported by a list compiled by the Internet security company Kaspersky Lab ZAO. On that list, China (said to be responsible for 23.9% of spam worldwide) is trailed by the US (16.8%) and South Korea (11.4%).

BELPAK did hit the top of the UCEPROTECT list in January 2013. At the time, Sergei Popkov, CEO of Beltelecom, the carrier that owns BELPAK, commented that providers cannot control what its users send or receive, but he added that the company offered an anti-virus service for customers.

Spam costs Americans up to $20 billion annually with anti-spam software makers -- like Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC), McAfee (NASDAQ:INTC) and Trend Micro (OTCMKTS:TMICF) -- pocketing about $6 billion of that total, according to the researchers Justin Rao and David Reiley, who published their paper "The Economics of Spam" in 2012. The spam market is shrinking, however, so those numbers might drop this year. According to estimates by Internet security solutions provider Symantec, the amount of spam shrunk in 2012 to 30 billion messages daily, representing a 28% decrease.

Researchers say that spam providers charge their clients -- companies who wish to advertise things like pharmaceuticals from India or replica watches from China -- between $20 and $50 per 1 million emails, while a fresher estimate from Kaspersky Lab reveals a bigger figure: $150 per 1 million spam messages.

Around the world, advertisers not scared off by such a questionable method of reaching possible buyers spend $4.5 million each day, or $1.6 billion per year, on spam campaigns like this one:

Image courtesy: SecureList.com

Kaspersky Lab notes that spam content is often targeted to specific holidays, advertising flowers ahead of Mother's Day, Easter, or Father's Day, for example. Other spam emails intended to infect users' PCs have been tied to news events ("Click here to see exclusive video"), like the Boston bombing or the election of the new Pope.

Investing in spam does not necessarily provide worthy returns: The researchers estimated the total industry revenue for spam-advertised goods reached only $300 million per year.

The "workers" who send out myriad unwanted messages barely see a dime despite their efforts, though -- because usually those "workers" are just infected computers from all around the globe. The kingpins who benefit from all the bizarre ads you see in your "Spam" folder might be just anywhere, too.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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