05/24/2011 12:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2012

Berkeley Computer Scientists Fight the War Against Spam

Here's a crazy statistic: to sell $100 worth of Viagra, a spam provider needed to send 12.5 million messages.

How do we know this is true? Well, a team of computer scientists at the University of California-Berkeley have taken it upon themselves to study spam. In a recent paper entitled,
Spamalytics: An Empirical Analysis of Spam Marketing Conversion, the Berkeley team charted the course of billions of unwanted e-mail messages generated by networks of zombie computers controlled by the rogue programs called "botnets." (Sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel.) Yikes! The zombie computers are running amok and mankind is doomed.

According to the New York Times, the purpose of the study was to find a means to reduce the flow of those pesky emails that offer discount Viagra, penis enhancement pills or a business proposal from a Nigerian prince.

What were the findings?

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.

To help win the war against spam, these financial companies could refuse to authorize online credit card payments to these merchants -- it would directly hit the spammers right where they live by financially shutting down the spam network. No low interest credit card transfers means no means for selling discount Viagra.

What would the InterWeb be without spam? Would culture be truly depleted without these inbox annoyances? What if our balance transfer credit cards never again purchased boner pills? Here's a good taste of what we'd be missing without email spam: