PharmaLeaks: Understanding the business of online pharmaceutical affiliate programs

Damon McCoy, Andreas Pitsillidis, Grant Jordan, Nicholas Weaver, Christian Kreibich, Brian Krebs, Geoffrey M. Voelker, Stefan Savage, Kirill Levchenko

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Online sales of counterfeit or unauthorized products drive a robust underground advertising industry that includes email spam, “black hat” search engine optimization, forum abuse and so on. Virtually everyone has encountered enticements to purchase drugs, prescription-free, from an online “Canadian Pharmacy.” However, even though such sites are clearly economically motivated, the shape of the underlying business enterprise is not well understood precisely because it is “underground.” In this paper we exploit a rare opportunity to view three such organizations—the GlavMed, SpamIt and RX-Promotion pharmaceutical affiliate programs—from the inside. Using “ground truth” data sets including four years of raw transaction logs covering over $185 million in sales, we provide an in-depth empirical analysis of worldwide consumer demand, the key role of independent third-party advertisers, and a detailed cost accounting of the overall business model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages16
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
Event21st USENIX Security Symposium - Bellevue, United States
Duration: Aug 8 2012Aug 10 2012


Conference21st USENIX Security Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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