Want Fries With That Spam?

Would you like fries with that SPAM?

By Chris Raudabaugh

What is the origin of the term SPAM?

SPAM is a product that consists of a can and it is full of a luncheon meat. Ok, maybe not related to the topic of SPAM email. So, really, it started in the networking world as the act of posting the same message X times. The real origin of the word came from the DnD (Dungeons and Dragons) games where users would repeat a command to slow down the game to gain an advantage (or just to be a pain). Then SPAM quickly became the term used on newsgroups as replication of advertisements that hit the discussion threads. The term SPAM is used essentially both in the email world and newsgroup world to basically describe a similar activity.

It’s all about $$$$$.

While each of us spend 1-30 minutes a day filtering out the SPAM from our email inbox, I’m sure you have asked yourself “Why do they bother to send me these stupid ads, I’m not ever going to buy anything from them”. It’s all percentages to these folks. For every X SPAM email they send, Y will buy. The trick is that the X has to be a very, very, big number in order to make it worth their while to engage in the activity. Having that said, it is important that SPAMmers collect and email to a large number email addresses.

Sometimes it is not always about selling products. The more nefarious Internet users send SPAM to help propagate a virus, worm, spyware, or a scam. Remember the famous “Anna Kournikova” worm and the “I love you” virus that brought many headaches to IT departments across the world? How about the famous “Nigerian” scam ? All of these are typically propagated by SPAM email. (Authors note:  My favorite SPAM email is an advertisement for anti-SPAM tools).

How did they even know my email address?

The most common way you end up on e-mailing lists is when you doll out your email to other websites. This can be when you order products or subscribe to services/newsletters. Anytime you provide your email, you are subjecting yourself to an email list that will be used to SPAM.

Some spammers will use robots to collect emails from newsgroups. They also will scour websites for embedded email addresses. The more evil email collectors will resort to stealing customer databases from unsecured websites.

Prevention

One of the most popular means of reducing SPAM traffic are SPAM filters that are usually available to you from your ISP. You might also be able to do some of your own SPAM filtering via your email client (e.g. rules settings in Outlook could help you filter the unwanted stuff).

Another option is signing up for a free email address from such providers as hotmail.com, yahoo.com, or excite.com. When you need to provide an email address for the sake of subscribing to a website for any reason, or need a place for order confirmations to be sent, use this ‘junk’ email. Usually these free services also provide SPAM filters.   Protecting your email address can also be done by  obfuscating your email address when posting to newsgroups or other forums.

Trying to stop companies from SPAM’ing you is usually a worthless task. Sure, reputable companies will take you off their e-mailing lists, but most SPAMmers will only use your ‘Remove me from list’ request as a means to verify that they are getting to you. It makes their emailing lists more valuable when they sell them to other SPAMmers.

With email being more and more HTML based, this opens your system up for unscrupulous access. It is best not to click any embedded links in any SPAM email. In fact, it is better not to ‘preview’ email. Just by viewing email can send information to the sender.

Phishing

Nope, that is spelled correctly. Phishing is used to describe the act of extracting personal information that will gain them access to funds or someone’s identity. Current email technology is so anonymous (and HTML oriented), that profiteers will try to dupe you into sending them bank/Credit Card account numbers, passwords, and worse, SS#’s by making the request look very official from a trusted source. It is just like someone calling you on the phone and asking for your SS# or Credit Card number. Don’t DO IT.

Future of SPAM

Fortunately, Congress has started putting together legislation to help combat SPAM.  However, there is law, and then there is technology.  There will probably be a need for a ‘next generation’ email protocol to help keep SPAMmers at bay.

Pass the ketchup please…..

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