Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Meatless Spam..

Microsoft has apparently warned that if spamming is not checked, it may lead to the end of the Internet. According to a report, some 15 billion spam mails are sent out each day. Well, it's a different debate all together that out of 20-odd spam mails that I receive each day, at least 15 come into my hotmail account (a Microsoft enterprise).

Excited by the [unofficial] warning issued by Microsoft, I decided to spend some time on the whole concept of spamming and the hoopla about it. (When I say "spend some time", I, in this Internet age, mean, "a few clicks on Google"). My search returned various results. While some were destructive, most of them (search results) were relevant. Some results were links to tutorials on how to create spam? (that would eventually lead me to howstuffworks.com, where they even tell you how to pee).

Origin of the word Spam to mean net abuse goes back into the 1980s, though it is believed to have gained popularity only in 1994 when two lawyers from Phoenix posted a message advertising their services in an upcoming U.S. "green card" lottery, it was the first deliberate mass posting to commonly get the name spam. The first email spam, as commonly reported, was an announcement sent to all ARPANET addresses on the west coast about a new DEC-20 machine in 1978.

Wikipedia, amongst its several definitions of spam, quotes the following in one of them, referring to the derivation of the term spam in electronic communication:
"Spam" is a popular Monty Python sketch, first broadcast in 1970. In the sketch, two customers are trying to order a breakfast without SPAM from a menu that includes the processed meat product in every item. The term spam (in electronic communication) is derived from this sketch.
Most of us know what spam means? Most of us receive several spam messages on email everyday. Perpetrators of such spam often harvest addresses of prospective recipients from Usenet postings or from web pages, obtain them from databases, or simply guess them by using common names and domains (wikipedia). According to BusinessWeek, in a single day in May 2003, AOL blocked 2 million spam messages.

To find how so much spam can be sent, I looked it up on howstuffworks.com. They duly returned me the information (enhanced by Google) that I was looking for, in the following order:
  1. "How Spam Works?"
  2. "How Firewalls Works?"
  3. "How Viagra Works?" (Holy Mother of God!)
According to them (the Viagra advocates), spam is very easy to create. Here's an example they quote:

Let's say that you have a recipe from your grandmother for the best blueberry muffins ever created. A friend suggests that you sell the recipe for $5.

You decide that your friend might be on to something, so you send an e-mail to the 100 people in your personal e-mail address book with the subject line, "These Blueberry Muffins Have Been Described as Heaven -- You Can Have the Recipe for $5!" Your e-mail contains a link to your blueberry muffin Web site. As a result of your 100 e-mails, you get two orders and make $10.

"Wow!" you think, "It cost me nothing to send those 100 e-mails, and I made $10. If I sent 1,000 e-mails I could make $100. If I sent a million e-mails I could make $100,000! I wonder where I could get a million e-mail addresses..."

Sounds incredibly easy, doesn't it? Well, now to address the question that how does a spammer get your address? Turns out, there are many professional companies that sell CDs full of valid addresses for a nominal price. Those companies collect their data from newsgroups, chatrooms, and may such forums. Spambotting is another way of piling up email addresses. Spammers can create software programs that spider the web looking for the @ sign that indicates an email address. The most common source, however, is the dictionary search of the email servers. (Such a process is described in the article Hotmail: A Spammer's Paradise?)

Spamming is increasingly becoming unavoidable. Spam filters do their best but still fail at least 15 to 20 times a day. Moreover, there is always a risk of loosing legitimate messages in the process of filtering spam. According to one report, more than 45% of the email traffic classifies as spam.

So, if you are a victim to spam, be a more aware user of the Internet. There are several ways to avoid spam. But, if you are a spammer, remember, if God has an email account, chances are, she is not very happy with you.

(Some backronyms for the word SPAM - Stupid Pointless Annoying Message or Several Posts A Minute. Spam, in most cases, means both of them.)

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