E-mail that is not requested. Also called "junk e-mail," "gray mail," "unsolicited commercial e-mail" (UCE) and "unsolicited bulk e-mail" (UBE), the term is both a noun (the e-mail message) and a verb (to send it). Spam is mostly used to advertise products and sometimes to broadcast political or social commentary.|
The term was supposedly coined from a Monty Python comedy sketch in the early 1970s, in which every meal in a restaurant contained SPAM (Hormel's processed meat). The sketch came from World War II when SPAM was always available in England while other foods were rationed. Spam may also be an acronym for "sales promotional advertising mail" or "simultaneously posted advertising message."
A Social Plague
Like viruses, spam has become a scourge on the Internet as more than 200 billion unwanted messages are transmitted daily. Unfortunately, as an advertising medium, spam produces results (see below). In order to reduce spam for their customers, ISPs have added an enormous number of servers that do only filtering (see spam filter).
On January 1, 2004, the CAN-SPAM act became law in the U.S., which provides severe penalties for spammers, if they can be located (see CAN-SPAM). See image spam, SPIM, SPIT, mobile phone spam, form spam, mail bomb, Joe Job, SPF, letter bomb, spamdexing, Blacklist of Internet Advertisers, munging, RBL, ROKSO, MAPS, spam relay, spam trap, botnet, rogue site and opt-in.
Why Do They Do It?
Simple math. Suppose that out of 4,000 spam messages, one person buys something, and the spammer makes $1. If two million spams were sent that day, the spammer made $500, and the job took a half hour to set up. A few hours per week could yield $100,000 a year. Is that enough incentive for techie teenagers, or would they rather go back to their paper routes? Of course, consistent revenue is not guaranteed, but there is ample motivation.
Filters Create Even More Spam
As spam filtering becomes more sophisticated, spammers send even more spam to make the same profit, but e-mail address lists can be purchased for very little or hijacked. There is a thriving business selling lists to spammers as well as lists of compromised computers (see zombie). There are even spam service providers that will do all the work (gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit!).
Easy to Rationalize
Spammers justify their existence by citing the huge amount of physical junk mail sent via the postal system, wasting trees and other resources. They also claim advertisers have been polluting the environment with radio, TV, bus and billboard ads for decades. A slight point perhaps, but a weak one.
Nevertheless, a standard for authenticating e-mail could eliminate most spam. Unfortunately, that can take years to implement worldwide (see e-mail authentication).
This book was written by a spammer, known only to readers as "Spammer-X." For insights into the minds of real people who spam for a living and how they do it, read "Inside the SPAM Cartel." (Syngress, 2004, ISBN 1-932266-86-0)