Abstract: 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 $170 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.

PharmaLeaks: understanding the business of online pharmaceutical affiliate programs.