Spam turns 20

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Spam turned 20 years old this month.  What did you do to celebrate?

Unsolicited messages have certainly been around longer than 20 years.  The earliest of these is the 1864 telegraph advertising dental services of Messrs. Gabriel, dentists.  Even then, unsolicited meant unwanted 😉

 
Commercial spam as we know it debuted on April 12, 1994, when two attorneys sent a mass commercial message to every newsgroup on Usenet.  The message advertised the immigration services of Laurence Canter and Martha Seigel.  There are a handful of reasons why this is considered the first commercial spam:

  • It was sent as a separate message to 5,500 separate Usenet groups, violating the netiquette of the time
  • A Perl script was used to post the message to Usenet
  • The couple repeated the process in June for a similar message
  • Canter & Seigel claim to have “gained 1,000 new clients and “made $100,000 off an ad that cost them only pennies””

When the couple sent their second message in June, Arnt Gulbrandsen created a cancelbot to crawl Usenet and kill their messages.  This is the first known cancelbot on Usenet.

Since then spam has become big business:

  • Spammers often generate a profit, regardless of how ridiculous they are
  • Companies pay consultants and internal staff to protect their networks from spam
  • Anti-virus, malware protection, and other technologies represent millions of dollars in revenues
  • Processing spam consumes bandwidth and other resources

Studies have shown that spam currently represents about 7 of every 10 messages, though this is the first time in years that spam, as a percentage of email, has fallen beneath 70% of all mail.  It's been dropping a couple of percentage points each year, but experts expect the amount of spam to remain about the same through 2014.  Unfortunately, ‘grey mail' like ham is expected to grow.

While the numbers don't seem to be changing much, the tactics are constantly evolving.  Spammers have moved on from legal commercial offers to fraudulent scams to malware and malicious files to phishing schemes and social engineering.   Meanwhile the do-gooders have been fighting back with initiatives like Spamhaus and APWG and huge advancements in anti-spam technologies like this one.

So how did you celebrate Spam's 20th birthday?  Here at Barracuda we celebrated by adding several new features and feature enhancements to our Barracuda Spam Firewall. Keep an eye on our blog over the next few weeks to get all the details ..

Questions or comments?  Connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Google +. Check out our videos on YouTube

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