Electronic spamming is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited messages (spam), especially advertising. As well as sending messages repeatedly on the same site. While the most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, online classified ads spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, junk fax transmissions, social spam, television advertising and file sharing spam. It is named after Spam, a luncheon meat, by way of a Monty Python sketch in which Spam is included in every dish.
Spamming remains economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, and it is difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high. In the year 2011, the estimated figure for spam messages is around seven trillion. The costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge. Spamming has been the subject of legislation in many jurisdictions.
A person who creates electronic spam is called a spammer.
1 In different media
1.2 Instant messaging
1.3 Newsgroup and forum
1.4 Mobile phone
1.5 Social networking spam
1.6 Social spam
1.7 Online game messaging
1.8 Spam targeting search engines (spamdexing)
1.9 Blog, wiki, and guestbook
1.10 Spam targeting video sharing sites
1.12 Academic Search
2 Noncommercial forms
3 Geographical origins
5 Trademark issues
6 Cost-benefit analyses
6.1 General costs
7 In crime
8 Political issues
9 Court cases
9.1 United States
9.2 United Kingdom
9.3 New Zealand
11 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
In different media
Main article: Email spam
Email spam, also known as unsolicited bulk Email (UBE), junk mail, or unsolicited commercial email (UCE), is the practice of sending unwanted email messages, frequently with commercial content, in large quantities to an indiscriminate set of recipients. Spam in email started to become a problem when the Internet was opened up to the general public in the mid-1990s. It grew exponentially over the following years, and today composes some 80 to 85% of all the email in the world, by a "conservative estimate". Pressure to make email spam illegal has been successful in some jurisdictions, but less so in others. The efforts taken by governing bodies, security systems and email service providers seem to be helping to reduce the onslaught of email spam. According to "2014 Internet Security Threat Report, Volume 19" published by Symantec Corporation, Spam volume dropped to 66% of all email traffic. Spammers take advantage of this fact, and frequently outsource parts of their operations to countries where spamming will not get them into legal trouble.
Increasingly, email spam today is sent via "zombie networks", networks of virus- or worm-infected personal computers in homes and offices around the globe. Many modern worms install a backdoor which allows the spammer to access the computer and use it for malicious purposes. This complicates attempts to control the spread of spam, as in many cases the spam does not obviously originate from the spammer. In November 2008 an ISP, McColo, which was providing service to botnet operators, was depeered and spam dropped 50%-75% Internet-wide. At the same time, it is becoming clear that malware authors, spammers, and phishers are learning from each other, and possibly forming various kinds of partnerships.
An industry of email address harvesting is dedicated to collecting email addresses and selling compiled databases. Some of these address harvesting approaches rely on users not reading the fine print of agreements, resulting in them agreeing to send messages indiscriminately to their contacts. This is a common approach in [[social networking spam]] such as that generated by the social networking site Quechup.
Main article: Messaging spam
Instant messaging spam makes use of instant messaging systems. Although less ubiquitous than its e-mail counterpart, according to a report from Ferris Research, 500 million spam IMs were sent in 2003, twice the level of 2002. As instant messaging tends to not be blocked by firewalls, it is an especially useful channel for spammers. This is very common on many instant messaging systems such as Skype.
Newsgroup and forum
Main article: Newsgroup spam
Newsgroup spam is a type of spam where the targets are Usenet newsgroups. Spamming of Usenet newsgroups actually pre-dates e-mail spam. Usenet convention defines spamming as excessive multiple posting, that is, the repeated posting of a message (or substantially similar messages). The prevalence of Usenet spam led to the development of the Breidbart Index as an objective measure of a message's "spamminess".
Main article: Forum spam
Forum spam is the creating of messages that are advertisements on Internet forums. It is generally done by automated spambots. Most forum spam consists of links to external sites, with the dual goals of increasing search engine visibility in highly competitive areas such as weight loss, pharmaceuticals, gambling, pornography, real estate or loans, and generating more traffic for these commercial websites. Some of these links contain code to track the spambot's identity; if a sale goes through, the spammer behind the spambot works on commission.
Main article: Mobile phone spam
Mobile phone spam is directed at the text messaging service of a mobile phone. This can be especially irritating to customers not only for the inconvenience but also because of the fee they may be charged per text message received in some markets. The term "SpaSMS" was coined at the adnews website Adland in 2000 to describe spam SMS. To comply with CAN-SPAM regulations, now SMS messages have to have the options of HELP and STOP, the latter to end communication with the advertising spam altogether.
Despite the high number of phone users, there has not been so much phone spam, because there is a charge for sending SMS, and installing trojans into other's phones that send spam (common for e-mail spam) is hard because applications normally must be downloaded from a central database.
Social networking spam
Main article: Social networking spam
Facebook and Twitter are not immune to messages containing spam links. Most insidiously, spammers hack into accounts and send false links under the guise of a user's trusted contacts such as friends and family. As for Twitter, spammers gain credibility by following verified accounts such as that of Lady Gaga; when that account owner follows the spammer back, it legitimizes the spammer and allows him or her to proliferate. Twitter has studied what interest structures allow their users to receive interesting tweets and avoid spam, despite the site using the broadcast model, in which all tweets from a user are broadcast to all followers of the user.
Spreading beyond the centrally managed social networking platforms, user-generated content increasingly appears on business, government, and nonprofit websites worldwide. Fake accounts and comments planted by computers programmed to issue social spam can infiltrate these websites. Well-meaning and malicious human users can break websites' policies by submitting profanity, insults, hate speech, and violent messages.
Online game messaging
Many online games allow players to contact each other via player-to-player messaging, chat rooms, or public discussion areas. What qualifies as spam varies from game to game, but usually this term applies to all forms of message flooding, violating the terms of service contract for the website. This is particularly common in MMORPGs where the spammers are trying to sell game-related "items" for real-world money, chiefly among them being in-game currency.
Spam targeting search engines (spamdexing)
Main article: Spamdexing
Spamdexing (a portmanteau of spamming and indexing) refers to a practice on the World Wide Web of modifying HTML pages to increase the chances of them being placed high on search engine relevancy lists. These sites use "black hat search engine optimization (SEO) techniques" to deliberately manipulate their rank in search engines. Many modern search engines modified their search algorithms to try to exclude web pages utilizing spamdexing tactics. For example, the search bots will detect repeated keywords as spamming by using a grammar analysis. If a website owner is found to have spammed the webpage to falsely increase its page rank, the website may be penalized by search engines.
Blog, wiki, and guestbook
Main article: Spam in blogs
Blog spam, or "blam" for short, is spamming on weblogs. In 2003, this type of spam took advantage of the open nature of comments in the blogging software Movable Type by repeatedly placing comments to various blog posts that provided nothing more than a link to the spammer's commercial web site. Similar attacks are often performed against wikis and guestbooks, both of which accept user contributions. Another possible form of spam in blogs is the spamming of a certain tag on websites such as Tumblr.
Spam targeting video sharing sites
Screenshot from a spam video on YouTube claiming that the film in question has been deleted from the site, and can only be accessed on the link posted by the spambot in the video description (if the video were actually removed by YouTube, the description would be inaccessible, and the deletion notification would look different).
Video sharing sites, such as YouTube, are now frequently targeted by spammers. The most common technique involves spammers (or spambots) posting links to sites, most likely pornographic or dealing with online dating, on the comments section of random videos or people's profiles. With the addition of a "Thumbs up/Thumbs down" feature, groups of spambots may constantly "Thumbs up" a comment, getting it into the Top Comments section and making the message more visible. Another frequently used technique is using bots to post messages on random users' profiles to a spam account's channel page, along with enticing text and images, usually of a sexually suggestive nature. These pages may include their own or other users' videos, again often suggestive. The main purpose of these accounts is to draw people to their link in the home page section of their profile. YouTube has blocked the posting of such links. In addition, YouTube has implemented a CAPTCHA system that makes rapid posting of repeated comments much more difficult than before, because of abuse in the past by mass-spammers who would flood individuals' profiles with thousands of repetitive comments.
Yet another kind is actual video spam, giving the uploaded movie a name and description with a popular figure or event which is likely to draw attention, or within the video has a certain image timed to come up as the video's thumbnail image to mislead the viewer, such as a still image from a feature film, purporting to be a part-by-part piece of a movie being pirated, e.g. Big Buck Bunny Full Movie Online - Part 1/10 HD, a link to a supposed keygen or an ISO file for a video game, or similar. The actual content of the video ends up being totally unrelated, a Rickroll, sometimes offensive, or just features on-screen text of a link to the site being promoted. In some cases, the link in question may lead to an online survey site, a passworded archive file, or in extreme cases, malware. Others may upload videos presented in an infomercial-like format selling their product which feature actors and paid testimonials, though the promoted product or service is of dubious quality and would likely not pass the scrutiny of a standards and practices department at a television station or cable network.
[icon] This section requires expansion. (September 2013)
SPIT (SPam over Internet Telephony) is VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) spam, usually using SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). This is almost identical to telemarketing calls over traditional phone lines. When the user chooses to receive the spam call, a pre-recorded message is usually played back. This is generally easier for the spammer as VoIP services are cheap and easy to anonymize over the Internet, and there are many options for sending mass amounts of calls from a single location. Accounts or IP addresses being used for VoIP spam can usually be identified by a large number of outgoing calls, low call completion and short call length.
Academic Search Engines enable researchers to find academic literature and are used to obtain citation data for calculating performance metrics such as the H-index and impact factor. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and OvGU demonstrated that most (web-based) academic search engines, especially Google Scholar, are not capable of identifying spam attacks. The researchers manipulated the citation counts of articles, and managed to make Google Scholar index complete fake articles, some containing advertising.
E-mail and other forms of spamming have been used for purposes other than advertisements. Many early Usenet spams were religious or political. Serdar Argic, for instance, spammed Usenet with historical revisionist screeds. A number of evangelists have spammed Usenet and e-mail media with preaching messages. A growing number of criminals are also using spam to perpetrate various sorts of fraud.
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This article is outdated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (July 2014)
A 2011 Cisco Systems report shows spam volume originating from countries worldwide.
Rank Country Percentage of spam volume
1 India 13.7
2 Russia 9.0
3 Vietnam 7.9
4 (tie) South Korea 6.0
6 China 4.7
7 Brazil 4.5
8 United States 3.2
In the late 19th Century Western Union allowed telegraphic messages on its network to be sent to multiple destinations. The first recorded instance of a mass unsolicited commercial telegram is from May 1864, when some British politicians received an unsolicited telegram advertising a dentistry shop.
According to the Internet Society and other sources, the term spam is derived from the 1970 Spam sketch of the BBC television comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus. The sketch is set in a cafe where nearly every item on the menu includes Spam canned luncheon meat. As the waiter recites the Spam-filled menu, a chorus of Viking patrons drowns out all conversations with a song repeating "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam... lovely Spam! wonderful Spam!", hence "Spamming" the dialogue. The excessive amount of Spam mentioned in the sketch is a reference to the preponderance of imported canned meat products in the United Kingdom, particularly a brand of tinned pork and ham (SPAM) from the USA, in the years after World War II, as the country struggled to rebuild its agricultural base. Spam captured a large slice of the British market within lower economic classes and became a byword among British children of the 1960s for low-grade fodder due to its commonality, monotonous taste and cheap price — hence the humour of the Python sketch.
In the 1980s the term was adopted to describe certain abusive users who frequented BBSs and MUDs, who would repeat "Spam" a huge number of times to scroll other users' text off the screen. In early chat rooms services like PeopleLink and the early days of Online America (later known as America Online or AOL), they actually flooded the screen with quotes from the Monty Python Spam sketch. With internet connections over phone lines, typically running at 1200 or even 300 bit/s, it could take an enormous amount of time for a spammy logo, drawn in ASCII art to scroll to completion on a viewer's terminal. Sending an irritating, large, meaningless block of text in this way was called spamming. This was used as a tactic by insiders of a group that wanted to drive newcomers out of the room so the usual conversation could continue. It was also used to prevent members of rival groups from chatting—for instance, Star Wars fans often invaded Star Trek chat rooms, filling the space with blocks of text until the Star Trek fans left. This act, previously called flooding or trashing, came to be known as spamming. The term was soon applied to a large amount of text broadcast by many users.
It later came to be used on Usenet to mean excessive multiple posting—the repeated posting of the same message. The unwanted message would appear in many if not all newsgroups, just as Spam appeared in nearly all the menu items in the Monty Python sketch. The first usage of this sense was by Joel Furr in the aftermath of the ARMM incident of March 31, 1993, in which a piece of experimental software released dozens of recursive messages onto the news.admin.policy newsgroup. This use had also become established—to spam Usenet was flooding newsgroups with junk messages. The word was also attributed to the flood of "Make Money Fast" messages that clogged many newsgroups during the 1990s. In 1998, the New Oxford Dictionary of English, which had previously only defined "spam" in relation to the trademarked food product, added a second definition to its entry for "spam": "Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users."
There was also an effort to differentiate between types of newsgroup spam. Messages which were crossposted to too many newsgroups at once - as opposed to those that were posted too frequently - were called velveeta (after a cheese product). But this term didn't persist.
Earliest documented spam (although the term had not yet been coined) was a message advertising the availability of a new model of Digital Equipment Corporation computers sent by Gary Thuerk to 393 recipients on ARPANET in 1978. Rather than send a separate message to each person, which was the standard practice at the time, he had an assistant, Carl Gartley, write a single mass e-mail. Reaction from the net community was fiercely negative, but the spam did generate some sales.
Spamming had been practiced as a prank by participants in multi-user dungeon games, to fill their rivals' accounts with unwanted electronic junk. The first known electronic chain letter, titled Make Money Fast, was released in 1988.
The first major commercial spam incident started on March 5, 1994, when a husband and wife team of lawyers, Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel, began using bulk Usenet posting to advertise immigration law services. The incident was commonly termed the "Green Card spam", after the subject line of the postings. Defiant in the face of widespread condemnation, the attorneys claimed their detractors were hypocrites or "zealouts", claimed they had a free speech right to send unwanted commercial messages, and labeled their opponents "anti-commerce radicals." The couple wrote a controversial book entitled How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway.
Within a few years, the focus of spamming (and anti-spam efforts) moved chiefly to e-mail, where it remains today. Arguably, the aggressive email spamming by a number of high-profile spammers such as Sanford Wallace of Cyber Promotions in the mid-to-late 1990s contributed to making spam predominantly an email phenomenon in the public mind. By 2009, the majority of spam sent around the world was in the English language; spammers began using automatic translation services to send spam in other languages.
Hormel Foods Corporation, the maker of SPAM luncheon meat, does not object to the Internet use of the term "spamming". However, they did ask that the capitalized word "Spam" be reserved to refer to their product and trademark. By and large, this request is obeyed in forums which discuss spam. In Hormel Foods v SpamArrest, Hormel attempted to assert its trademark rights against SpamArrest, a software company, from using the mark "spam", since Hormel owns the trademark. In a dilution claim, Hormel argued that Spam Arrest's use of the term "spam" had endangered and damaged "substantial goodwill and good reputation" in connection with its trademarked lunch meat and related products. Hormel also asserts that Spam Arrest's name so closely resembles its luncheon meat that the public might become confused, or might think that Hormel endorses Spam Arrest's products.
Hormel did not prevail. Attorney Derek Newman responded on behalf of Spam Arrest: "Spam has become ubiquitous throughout the world to describe unsolicited commercial e-mail. No company can claim trademark rights on a generic term." Hormel stated on its website: "Ultimately, we are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, 'Why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk email?".
Hormel also made two attempts that were dismissed in 2005 to revoke the marks "SPAMBUSTER" and Spam Cube. Hormel's Corporate Attorney Melanie J. Neumann also sent SpamCop's Julian Haight a letter on August 27, 1999 requesting that he delete an objectionable image (a can of Hormel's Spam luncheon meat product in a trash can), change references to UCE spam to all lower case letters, and confirm his agreement to do so.
The European Union's Internal Market Commission estimated in 2001 that "junk e-mail" cost Internet users €10 billion per year worldwide. The California legislature found that spam cost United States organizations alone more than $13 billion in 2007, including lost productivity and the additional equipment, software, and manpower needed to combat the problem. Spam's direct effects include the consumption of computer and network resources, and the cost in human time and attention of dismissing unwanted messages. Large companies who are frequent spam targets utilize numerous techniques to detect and prevent spam.
In addition, spam has costs stemming from the kinds of spam messages sent, from the ways spammers send them, and from the arms race between spammers and those who try to stop or control spam. In addition, there are the opportunity cost of those who forgo the use of spam-afflicted systems. There are the direct costs, as well as the indirect costs borne by the victims—both those related to the spamming itself, and to other crimes that usually accompany it, such as financial theft, identity theft, data and intellectual property theft, virus and other malware infection, child pornography, fraud, and deceptive marketing.
The cost to providers of search engines is not insignificant: "The secondary consequence of spamming is that search engine indexes are inundated with useless pages, increasing the cost of each processed query". The methods of spammers are likewise costly. Because spamming contravenes the vast majority of ISPs' acceptable-use policies, most spammers have for many years gone to some trouble to conceal the origins of their spam. E-mail, Usenet, and instant-message spam are often sent through insecure proxy servers belonging to unwilling third parties. Spammers frequently use false names, addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information to set up "disposable" accounts at various Internet service providers. In some cases, they have used falsified or stolen credit card numbers to pay for these accounts. This allows them to quickly move from one account to the next as each one is discovered and shut down by the host ISPs.