The Concept Of Spam In Email Communication

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2006 25 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



1 . Introduction

2. Email Spam
2.1. Definition
2.2. History of Spam
2.2.1 The MUDders
2.2.2 The first internet e-mail spam, sent by Digital Equipment Corporation
2.2.3 Make Money Fast
2.2.4 ARMM -- first to be called spam
2.2.5 First Giant Spam
2.2.6 Green Card
2.3. Categories of Spam

3. Spam broad trends
3.1. Commtouch Email Threats Trend Report
3.2. Symantec Spam Report December
3.3. Recent trends.

4. The Spam solutions.
4.1. Non-governmental
4.2. Quasi-governmental
4.3. Governmental

5. Conclusion

6. Appendices
6.1. Appendix 1
6.2. Appendix 2
6.3. Appendix 3

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

"Spam is the result a lack of ethics and integrity in regards to promotional activities on the internet. It's not a question of whether or not you get caught. It's a question of maintaining your ethics and integrity while still engaging in promotion, marketing and advertising." (Lowe 2008)

The communication by email has become one of the most important means of communication in cooperate and private. An internet user is constantly confronted by mass emails containing undesired information. Spam, defined as bulk unsolicited emailing, generally commercial in nature, and predominately fraudulent.

Spam causes high charges and damages.

Nucleus Research announced that the spam epidemic is costing US businesses $712 per employee each year in lost worker productivity. As a result, users are spending 16 seconds identifying and deleting each spam e-mail, which translates into an annual cost of $70 bln to all US businesses. Looking at the total e-mail traffic, Nucleus estimates that at least 90% of e-mail reaching corporate servers is spam. The average user receives 21 spam messages to their inbox each day. (Moskalyuk 2007)

Regardless of the inefficient time spent, there are further costs caused by spam, such as (cf Filterpoint 2008):

- Deleted emails remain stored in the trash folder.
- Higher storage costs through higher server expenses.
- Higher bandwith essential to store the spam mails.
- Time spent by IT staff for anti-spam measures.
- Recovery costs after a virus attack.

Various experts provide a spam calculator that enables to determine the approximate annual costs for an enterprise created by spam. (Gibbs 2003, Commtouch 2007)

The calculator introduced by Gibbs differentiates productivity, connectivity, storage and support costs. This Spam Cost Analysis Model can be found in appendix 1 of this work.

In this work different types of spam in general and in specific will be pointed out and characterized. Measures against unsolicited emails will be reviewed.

First I start with the definition of spam and where it comes from, followed with the spam history. Then I briefly list the most common categories and variants of spam used. The next step will be the revision of a present situation captured by Commtouch and Symantec, as well as statistics on the information learned through spam monitoring during the last few months, with the examples of its usage. I conclude with an overview of spam solutions offered and point out further research topics in the area.

2. Email Spam

2.1. Definition

Different dictionaries define the term spam in a similar way:

- “computing emails that are sent to large numbers of people on the Internet, especially when these are not wanted”. (Macmillan English Dictionary for advanced learners 2007:1430 )
- “email messages that a computer user has not asked for and does not want to read, for example from someone who is advertising something”. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 2003:1585)
- “( informal ) advertising material sent by email to people who have not asked for it (Junk mail )” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English 2000:1237 )

“Spam is also known as "unsolicited commercial e-mail" (UCE), "unsolicited bulk e-mail" (UBE), "gray mail" and just plain "junk mail," the term is both a noun (the e-mail message) and a verb (to send it).” (ZDNet 2008)

The term spam referred to meat in a can. This term was later applied to junk email, which referred to a comedy sketch from Monty Phyton where all meal in a restaurant contained spam.(cf Pitylak 2008)

A man and his wife tried to order in a restaurant but everything they wanted to order had spam. But they tried to order something without spam. There were Vikings singing in the back”Spam spam spam spam lovely spam! Wonderful spam!” This sketch was around when the internet just started with a few computers connected via telephone wire. (cf Cox 2008)

Some other definitions of Spam-meat:

- “Trade name for a type of cooked meat that is sold in tins. Because people had to eat so much of it during the Second World War, it became the object of many jokes.” (Macmillan English Dictionary for advanced learners 2007:1430)

- “A type of cheap canned meat made mainly from pork”. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 2003:1585)
- “Finally chopped cooked meat that has been pressed together in a container, usually sold in cans and served cold in slices”. (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English 2000:1237 )
- “A tinned meat product made mainly from ham ( from sp iced h am)”. (Illustrated Oxford Dictionary 1998:796)

These definitions give a clear understanding of the different types of spam. This work concentrates on spam in terms of unrequested and unsolicited emails received by email users.

2.2. History of Spam

Spam has different sources and various explanations. The following points will give detailed overview about the history of spam to provide the conceptual background of spam in the email communication.

2.2.1. The MUDders

“The term “Spam” goes back to the late 1980s and the "MUD" community”. (Templeton 2008)

MUD stands for multi-user-dungeon and was named after the adventure game ““Dungeons and Dragons”, that was popular at that time. MUD was used by the majority of people to chat and play. The term “spamming” at the MUD community described different ways of behaviour (cf Templeton 2008):

- Crash the computer with too much data.
- To “spam the database” by having a program create a huge number of objects.
- Flooding a chat session with a bunch of text inserted by a program.

There are unconfirmed reports as well that the term migrated to MUDs from early "chat" systems. Rich Frueh believes the term originated on Bitnet's Relay, the early chat system that IRC was named after. When the ability to input a whole file to the chat system was implemented, people would annoy others by dumping the words to the Monty Python Spam Song.[ The Monty Python Spam Sketch can be found in the appendix 2 of this work.] Peter da Silva reports use in early 80s chat on TRS-80 based BBSs, but feels since they imported other Bitnet Relay customs, the term may have come from there. Another unconfirmed report from a BBS user claims to have seen it defined as a "Single Post to All Messagebases" though this origin seems unlikely in my personal opinion.(Templeton 2008)

2.2.2. The first internet E-mail spam, sent by Digital Equipment Corporation

“It was intended to be sent to every email address on the ARPANET (which much later became the internet), but since space was limited the later names were truncated.” (Lowe 2008) But “In 1978 nobody called this a spam”. (Templeton 2008)

2.2.3 Make Money Fast

One of the first truly despicable spam messages came from a guy named Dave Rhodes. According to legend, he was a college student who wrote an email advertising a pyramid scheme. This spam was not really an email message as it was posted to the Usenet (newsgroups) but the concept was the same. Lots and lots of people got to read an email advertising a silly scheme with a subject of "MAKE.MONEY.FAST!!".

As an interesting side note, it's very possible that "Dave Rhodes" never existed, at least not in 1986. The university, which he supposedly attended, has no record of this man. Since chain letters existed for years (way back into the 1970's) before, 1986 is very possibly the year in which someone simply typed one of these snail-mail letters into a computer and sent it off to the newsgroups. (Lowe 2008)

“However, while there were many "MAKE MONEY FAST" postings in the early 90s and even the 80s, they were usually one-off postings, each one by a different person. Thus they weren't called spam.”(Templeton 2008)

2.2.4 ARMM - first to be called spam

In 1993 Richard Depew decided to introduce a concept known as retro-moderation. This would allow newsgroups to become a little bit more controlled, by having a moderator who would cancel postings after they had been made. While there were moderated newsgroups up to this point, Depew was suggesting moderating after the fact. Depew wrote a program to delete these postings. Unfortunately, it had a bug and wrote 200 messages to the news.admin.policy newsgroup. This annoyed a lot of people. (Lowe 2008)

Some people, knowing the term from MUDs, called it a spam. The very day ARMM was run, Joel Furr, was the first to call a spam a spam. Depew himself shortly apologized for having done a spam, using the term himself. However, many would say that this wasn't a true spam, since it was an accident. (Templeton 2008)

2.2.5 First Giant Spam

“One of the first mass mailings on the Usenet was from Clarence L. Thomas IV. The subject was "Global Alert For All: Jesus is Coming Soon" and it was a long, boring email about the end of the world. This mailing occurred in January of 1994”. (Lowe 2008)

2.2.6 Green Card

“Around four months after the Jesus spam, in April of 1994, Canter and Siegel posted the famous ‘Green Card Lottery - Final One?’” (Templeton 2008) “They posted this message to 6,000 newsgroups at the same time. They continued posting for some time, and reportedly made some money from their efforts”. (Lowe 2008)

2.3. Categories of Spam

According to classifications on messages passing through the Symantec Probe Network (Bowers and Harnett 2007:4) following spam categories can be defined:

- Product offering or advertising general goods and services.

Examples: de­vices, investigation services, clothing, makeup

- Adult containing or referring to products or services intended for persons above the age of 18, often offensive or inappropriate.
Examples: porn, personal ads, relationship advice
- Financial that contain references or offers related to money, the stock market or other financial “opportunities.”
Examples: investments, credit reports, real estate, loans
- Scams recognized as fraudulent, intentionally misguiding, or known to re­sult in fraudulent activity on the part of the sender.

Examples: Nigerian investment, pyra­mid schemes, chain letters , Get Something Free



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LMU Munich – Department für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
spam email spam E-Mail spam scam unsolicited mails




Title: The Concept Of Spam In  Email Communication