Everyone who uses an email service has to deal with spam on a daily basis. Internet spam takes various forms but the most common one is to target email addresses. No matter how strong spam filters you use in addition to the default filters provided by the email service, there could be junk mail waiting for you whenever you sign in.
What is internet spam and where are its roots? To know more about spam or unsolicited and irrelevant messages and ways to stop them, understand where the word spam originally came from.
Origins of Spam
The word spam gathered attention when a hugely successful BBC television show of the 70s, ‘Monty Python’ gave the word its popularity. The word was sewn into the comedy show repeatedly and caught eyeballs and fan following. Spam is actually short for spiced ham; a cost-effective meat product brand from Hormel that came out during World War II.
The comedy skit made spam the most talked about topic worldwide. The word began trending when early 80s video gamers typed it over and over on the screens. This formed the initial days of actual usage of the word as a precursor to today’s internet spam.
AOL chat rooms in the 90s used to be flooded with the above-mentioned show’s spam quotes. This was just to get some laughs, but this was the time when dial-up internet was common and phone cables were used for internet.
They ran at a low speed of around 300 bits per second. So, the only spam messages people received on online forums were clip art images using ASCII art. These would take a lot of time to load completely onto their PCs. Usenet forums were also filled with junk messages, multiple incoming messages of the same content, and repeated postings.
Improvements in the internet meant that the methods of delivering spam got more creative and easier. This is how spamming transformed from text to forum spam and then internet spam, which includes everything from junk email, unsolicited commercial messages, or irrelevant ads.
How the World Accepted the Ubiquitous Spam
Spam is everywhere. For any purpose you may make use of the internet, you will always have spam lurking around the corners. There is no possible way to actually stop receiving spam messages, but what you can do is use filters to separate your genuine messages from fake emails or phishing emails. This applies for the ordinary lot and all the people who use the internet.
But, even the Hormel company who created the meat spread brand ‘Spam’ had come to terms with the fact that there is no fighting it. The Monty Python sketch show had made the word spam synonymous with their brand. So they finally accepted it as their corporate identity in 2007. They had created ‘Sir Can-A-Lot’, on the lines of the character from the show, when they released one of their new products in 2012.
How Internet Spam Works
The main reason spam is found in your inboxes so frequently is that it is very easy to create. Most irrelevant emails we see have one thing in common. They are advertising something. So, we can view this spamming process as an easy and free of cost method of advertising. Let us say that at least 1000 people receive the same email that you do.
You might not be interested in the email’s content. So you simply delete it as soon as you realize it is junk. But, suppose only 5 people opened the email and read it, got interested in what is for sale, and made a purchase. This means that the sender made a profit, with absolutely no cost of marketing. It is as easy as this for anyone to become a spammer.
Who is the Target of Spamming?
Anyone who has an email address is a potential target of spamming. Many of us sign in on our web browsers while surfing the net and this allows the websites to remember your email address. There are ads that entice you into clicking their links. They might promise you a job that offers thousands of dollars in a day. Or they may promise you a reduction in your belly fat to get your email address.
The next way in which spammers can get email addresses is by creating their own spiders called ‘spambots’ which traverse through the ocean of websites. They find email addresses by screening the web for the sign ‘@’. Apart from websites, spammers search for email addresses on chat rooms, forums, and newsgroups using specific software.
Guard Yourself against Spam
Gmail has an inbuilt spam filter for the messages from ever reaching your inbox. These go directly to your spam folder. Auto spam filters work by checking your incoming emails for words like lottery, sex, send money, last date, viagra, penile, erectile, etc. and any similar word variations.
Some filters even look for unnecessary repetition of the same words. These word lists are compiled from the most commonly found spam emails. The filters then locate the IP address of the system from where the spam message has been created and put the IP in a block list.
Still, the spammers can get creative and find ways to work around the filters. The common method is to use words with random letters like ‘pstmq’, which has no meaning whatsoever. Another way is to stuff these words with random characters, like ‘e-r#e-c*t-i*l#e’.
They add different words in each sentence of the email content and make them incoherent to read by the filters. This is how spam sometimes escapes the scrutiny of the filters.
Don’t open junk mail like ‘Nigerian prince needs donations’ and ‘You are the winner of BBC contest’, which are ridiculous as no prince would ever need your specific help and you didn’t even enter that particular contest. One thing to remember is that if you didn’t consent to receive the message you got, just consider it as spam. Don’t be gullible, use internet security tools to avoid spam.