Feeds

30 years of Spam - and we ain't finished yet

Many unhappy returns

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Spam celebrates its 30th birthday on Saturday (3 May).

On that day in 1978, 393 Arpanet subscribers were sent what's reckoned to be the first ever spam email1 in history (the message itself was written on 1 May 1978).

DEC marketing rep Gary Thuerk came up with the wheeze which produced a fierce backlash from Arpanet (military) administrators, as well as a small number of sales.

After first appearing on Arpanet, unsolicited bulk commercial ads moved over to Usenet, email and websites links. Much to the chagrin of Hormel Foods, the term spam was applied to the phenomenon in a pop-culture reference to the spam skit from Monty Python's Flying Circus, where all meals in a restaurant come with spam, spam and more spam. Junk email - not nourishing luncheon meat - has become the principal meaning of the word spam.

A lot has changed in the three decades since. Instead of a select group of academics, practically the entire online population (estimated at 1.3 billion) is subjected to a daily deluge of junk mail messages.

Spam filtering technology has come on a long way in the last three or four years in particular, but eradicating the problem has proved a far more difficult task than originally imagined.

In January 2004, Bill Gates predicted that spam email would be eradicated as a problem within 24 months. Gates outlined a three-stage plan to eradicate spam within two years.

Microsoft's scheme called for better filters to weed out spam messages and sender authentication via a form of challenge-response system. Secondly, Microsoft wanted to see tar-pitting so that emails coming from unknown senders were slowed down to a point where bulk mail runs become impractical.

Lastly, and most promisingly as far as Gates was concerned, was a digital equivalent of stamps for email, to be paid out only if the recipient considers an email to be spam.

The third idea never really got off the ground while the first two (already in the works when Gates made his speech) have been applied across the industry, at least in part.

But as anti-spam defences have advanced, so have spamming methods. Using compromised email gateways, which can be relatively quickly blacklisted, is a thing of the past as junk mail miscreants have moved over to using networks of compromised PCs (botnets).

As techniques for identifying and taking down botnet control servers have evolved so too have hacker techniques so that, for example, compromised nodes search for control servers and communicate using HTTP rather than IRC channels.

Meanwhile, spam has begun appearing on other platforms, such as mobile phones. According to research from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), more than 80 per cent of phone users worldwide have received spam on their mobile.

An estimated 95 per cent of all email is spam. If nobody responded to spam the tactic would not be commercially viable, but a recent survey conducted by Sophos revealed that 11 per cent of people admit to having bought goods in response to spam messages.

Sophos launched a campaign on Thursday urging people to resist clicking on spam links, in the hope that spam will not reach its next landmark anniversary. ®

1 A copy of Thuerk's messages, advertising West Coast demos of a new hardware system from DEC, along with the negative reactions it provoked can be found here in an article by Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A young Richard Stallman was among the minority who suggested DEC's mass message was nothing to get upset about.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
JLaw, Kate Upton EXPOSED in celeb nude pics hack
100 women victimised as Apple iCloud accounts reportedly popped
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
Oz fed police in PDF redaction SNAFU
Give us your metadata, we'll publish your data
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.