The volume of spam email offering sales of pirate software continues to rise, representing both a threat and an opportunity to retailers.
According to Symantec's January 2006 security review, general commercial spam - offering to sell a product or service other than adult or financial content - is now the most common type of junk email seen in the APAC region, accounting for 22 per cent of all spam sent between December 24 and January 23. Globally, commercial messages accounts for 19 per cent of all spam, outstripped only by financial products and services.
One of the most common categories of commercial spam is for software. Many such spam messages offer discounts for so-called OEM software, sold to manufacturers at a discounted rate for bundling with PCs or other pieces of hardware.
"What IS 0EM software and why do you care?" reads one typical message. "Popular software at low low price." Most software pricing offered in spam is well below retail levels, although some are actually as costly as the legitimate product.
In practice, the software on offer is pirated (OEM packages are not ever offered to consumers for retail sale). In some cases, the spammer simply leeches funds from unwary buyers without ever dispatching any goods.
Many such emails appear to be obvious fakes, with sender IDs featuring ludicrous combinations such as Gaunted U Bionic or Delores Q Categorization, designed to outwit anti-spam systems.
However, security analysts argue that the continued growth in spam volumes suggests that some consumers are responding to it regardless. IDC estimates that 33 billion spam messages will be sent worldwide in 2006.
While little hard data on the volume of software sold in this way exists, its increasing prevalence, combined with the widespread sharing of pirated software on peer-to-peer networks, represents a growing threat to legitimate software channels.
The only bright spot for retailers is that there are also growing opportunities in selling services and solutions designed to stop spam. Gartner has predicted a compound annual growth rate of 16.2 per cent for security software sales, and anti-spam systems currently represent only a tiny fraction of overall sales.