Spam-happy shoppers love stolen software

Among the most popular items sold via unsolicited e-mail is illegal software--meaning the spam problem isn't likely to die soon.

Online shoppers are still willing to buy products advertised in spam, indicating that the problem is unlikely to desist anytime soon, a new survey shows.

Among the most popular items being sold via unsolicited e-mail is illegal software--in many cases adding to the number of laws being broken by the sellers.

According to figures from Forrester Research, a staggering 22 percent of U.K. online consumers have bought software through spam.

The problems with this kind of sale in particular are manifold. Users are encouraging the spammers to keep sending bulk mail by buying from them. They are also violating software copyrights. Furthermore, by buying software that is most likely pirated and not produced with much quality assurance they are likely exposing themselves to viruses and spyware bundled with their illegal goods.

Ironically, it is the very Trojans which can come bundled with pirate software that help create the networks of compromised machines abused by spammers.

"Who knows what you're getting when they buy a piece of software from these e-mails," said Alyn Hockey, product director at Clearswift. "There could be anything on there."

Hockey stressed that even if users aren't worried about the copyright implications of pirated software they should certainly take notice of the security threat of installing it.

Some of the most common software suites sold via junk e-mail offer spam protection, anti-spyware and pop-up blocking software--"the current hot topics" and the very problems users are likely to be encouraging through their purchase, Hockey said.

The Forrester survey, conducted on behalf of the Business Software Alliance, revealed there is still a long way to go before there is enough of a financial disincentive to send spammers in search of alternative employment.

"The only guaranteed way to stop the spammers is by hurting them in the pocket," Hockey said. "But by buying from them, users are giving them money and helping them to maintain their business and their lifestyle."

The Forrester survey also revealed that more than 90 percent of U.K. online consumers receive spam. Although there are large variations in the amount of spam received by these consumers, it shows the problem now affects almost anybody connected to the Internet. The survey involved more than 6,000 respondents across six countries.

The BSA warned that before making a purchase, consumers should consider that the same people who send spam offering cheap software are often also involved in identity theft, credit card fraud, and so on.

A spokesman for the BSA said: "Many online consumers don't consider the true motives of spammers. In addition to profiting from selling goods and services and driving click-through ad traffic, organized crime rings use spam to gain access to personal information."

Will Sturgeon of reported from London.