spammingSpamming is the act of sending unsolicited, bulk (and usually commercial) electronic messages. Though this can be done through any number of media, the most common are e-mail and SMS. OverviewThe most common purpose for spamming is advertising. Goods commonly advertised in spam include pornography, computer software, medical products such as Viagra, credit card accounts, and fad products. Spam is also used to promote scams such as pyramid schemes, stock pump-and-dump schemes, and the Nigerian money transfer fraud (419 fraud).A spammer sends identical or nearly identical messages to thousands of email addresses. These addresses are often harvested from Usenet postings or web pages, obtained from databases, or simply guessed by using common names and domains. By definition, spam is sent without the permission of the recipients.Spamming is broadly considered unacceptable behavior by Internet service providers and indeed most Internet users. Users find spam annoying and its contents frequently offensive; Internet service providers object to the unrecoupable cost of processing other people’s advertisements. Surveys have indicated that spam is one of most users’ greatest annoyances about the Internet today. Sending spam is a violation of the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) of most ISPs, and can lead to the termination of the sender’s account. In addition, in many jurisdictions it is a crime or tort.A large number of spammers engage in deliberate fraud to send out their spam. Spammers frequently use false names, addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information to set up “disposable” accounts at various Internet service providers. They also often use 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. Spammers also use spamware — software programs designed to scan the Internet for computers that can be exploited to deliver spam messages on the spammer’s behalf. This makes it harder to find the spammer’s actual location, and subjects the exploited host or ISP to the complaints of spam recipients. Both of these forms of “stealth” spamming are illegal, though spammers are rarely prosecuted for engaging in these tactics.By and large, senders of email advertisements each assert that what they do is not spamming. Precisely what sorts of activity constitute spamming is a matter of debate, and definitions differ based on the purpose for which “spamming” is being defined.EtymologyThe term spam is derived from the Monty Python SPAM sketch, set in a cafe where everything on the menu includes SPAM™ luncheon meat. While a customer plaintively asks for some kind of food without SPAM in it, the server reiterates the SPAM-filled menu. Soon, a chorus of Vikings join in with a song: “SPAM, SPAM, wonderful SPAM, glorious SPAM,” over and over again, drowning out all conversation.The term “spamming” was first used on the Internet to refer to disruptive, repetitious messages on  (http://www.templetons.com/brad/spamterm.html)There are two popular (and incorrect) folk etymologies of the word “spam”. The first, promulgated by spammers Canter & Siegel, is that “spamming” is what happens when one dumps a can of SPAM into a fan blade. The second is the acronym “shit posing as mail.”Hormel Foods, the makers of SPAM™ luncheon meat, do not object to the Internet use of the term “spamming.” However, they do ask that the capitalized word “SPAM” be reserved to refer to their product and trademark.  (http://www.spam.com/ci/ci_in.htm).Other words for spamThe terms unsolicited commercial email (UCE) and unsolicited bulk email (UBE) are sometimes used as more precise or less slang-like expressions for email spam. Many email users regard all UBE as spam, regardless of its content — but most legislative efforts against spam are tailored to address UCE. A small but noticeable proportion of unsolicited bulk email is not, in fact, also commercial; examples include political advocacy spam and chain letters.Alternate meaningsThe term “spamming” is also used in the older sense of something repetitious and disruptive by players of first-person shooter computer games. In this sense it refers to “area denial” tactics — repeatedly firing rockets or other explosive shells into an area.MUD, MUSH, and MUCK players happily continue using the word in its original sense. When a player returns to the terminal after a brief break to find her screen filled with pages of random chat, that’s still called “spam”.  (http://www.graphxpress.com/cgi-bin/wcotp.cgi?date=19980407)Neither of these senses of the word imply that the “spamming” is abusive.Types of spamEmail spammingLarger ISPs such as America Online report that anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of their email server capacity is consumed by spam.Because this cost is imposed without the consent of either the site owners or the authorized users, many argue that email spamming is a form of theft of services.Many email spammers send their UBE through open mail relays. The SMTP system, used to send email across the Internet, forwards mail from one server to another; mail servers that ISPs run commonly require some form of authentication that the user is a customer of that ISP. Open relays, however, do not properly check who is using the mail server and pass all mail to the destination address, making it quite a bit harder to track down spammers.In May 2003, it was reported more than half of all emails sent were spam. Steve Linford of the spam-fighting project Spamhaus warned that at current rates of increase, the entire email system could “melt down” within six months.”Official” views on spamming can be found in RFC 2635 (http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc2635.html).Messaging spamSince the late 1990s, mail system administrators have taken many steps to crack down on spamming. Some of these have even been successful. As a result, those who want to send unsolicited advertisements over the Internet at others’ expense have turned to a number of other media.Instant messaging (IM) systems are a popular target for spammers. Many IM systems offer a directory of users, including demographic information such as age and sex. Advertisers can gather this information, sign on to the system, and send unsolicited messages. To combat this, some users choose to receive IMs only from people they already know.In 2002, a number of spammers have begun using the Microsoft Windows Messaging service to get their message across. This isn’t the same as the IM system “MSN Messenger”; rather, it is a function of Windows designed to allow servers to send alerts to administrator workstations. Windows Messaging spam appears as normal dialog boxes containing the spammer’s message. Windows Messaging spam can be delivered using any NetBIOS port, so to block it at a firewall entails closing down ports 135 through 139, and 445.Usenet spamSpamming of newsgroups actually pre-dates email spam. Today, it is primarily used to advertise pornography; however, the first widely recognized Usenet spam was an advertisement for legal services. It was posted in April 1994 by lawyers Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel, and hawked legal representation for United States immigrants seeking papers (“green cards”).Old Usenet convention defines spamming as excessive multiple posting, that is, the repeated posting of a message (or substantially similar messages). During the early 1990s there was substantial controversy among Usenet system administrators (news admins) over the use of cancel messages to control spam. A cancel message is a directive to news servers to delete a posting, causing it to be inaccessible to those who might read it. Some regarded this as a bad precedent, leaning towards censorship, while others considered it a proper use of the available tools to control the growing spam problem.Throughout that period, the term “spam” on Usenet was used to refer specifically to excessive multiple posting. Other terms were coined for similar behaviors such as excessive cross-posting or the posting of individual off-topic advertisements. More recently, however, these have also been termed spam, by analogy to the more widely known email spam.SpamdexingSpamdexing, or search engine spammers, is the manipulation of search engine inputs in order to give a Web site a higher relevance ranking than it would on its merits. Search engine operators consider this practice abusive, and have in several instances adjusted their indexing methods to count spamdexed pages lower in an effort to stem the practice.Search engine spamming is unlike other forms of spamming in that it does not involve directing unauthorized messages to another party’s network resources. However, it does involve intentional deception or manipulation of a public utility (the search engine) and for this reason, many consider it a comparable abuse.In 2002, search engine manipulator SearchKing filed suit in an Oklahoma court against search engine Google. SearchKing’s claim was that Google’s tactics to prevent spamdexing constituted an unfair business practice. This may be compared to lawsuits which email spammers have filed against spam-fighters, as in various cases against MAPS and other DNSBLs. In January of 2003, the court pronounced a summary judgment in Google’s favor.  (http://research.yale.edu/lawmeme/modules.php?name=Downloads&d_op=search&query=SearchKing)Non-commercial spamBoth email and other forms of spamming have been used for purposes other than advertisement. Many early Usenet spams were religious or political in nature. Serdar Argic, for instance, spammed Usenet with historical revisionist screeds. A number of evangelists have spammed Usenet and email media with preaching messages.Particularly on Usenet, spamming has also been used as a sporgery (from spam + forgery). This tactic has for instance been used by partisans of the Scientology vs. the Internet) and by spammers against news.admin.net-abuse.email, a forum for mail administrators to discuss spam problems. Applied to email, this is termed mailbombing.In a handful of cases, forged email spam has been used as a tool of harassment. The spammer collects a list of addresses as usual, then sends a spam to them signed with the name of the person he wishes to harass. Some recipients, angry that they received spam and seeing an obvious “source”, will respond angrily or try to take various sorts of revenge upon the apparent spammer, the forgery victim. The first widely known victim of this sort of harassment was an administrator at the domain joes.com, which has lent its name to the offense: it is known as a “joe job”. Such joe jobs have been most often used against anti-spammers: in recent examples, Steve Linford of spamhaus.org and Timothy Walton, a California attorney, have been targeted.Economics of spamSpamming is sometimes called the electronic equivalent of junk postal mail. However, the printing and postage costs of junk mail are paid for by the sender — in the case of spam, the recipient’s mail site pays most of the costs, in terms of bandwidth, CPU processing time, and storage space. Spammers frequently use free dial-up accounts, so their costs may be quite minimal indeed. Because of this offloading of costs onto the recipient, many consider spamming to be theft or criminal conversion.Because spamming is forbidden by ISPs, spammers frequently seek out and make use of vulnerable third-party systems such as open mail relays and open proxy servers. Spammers have also abused resources set up for purposes of anonymous speech online, such as anonymous remailers. As a result, many of these resources have been shut down, denying their utility to legitimate users.Costs of spamMany users are bothered by spam because it impinges upon the amount of time they spend reading their email. Many also find the content of spam frequently offensive, in that pornography is one of the most frequently advertised products. Spammers send their spam largely indiscriminately, so pornographic ads may show up in a workplace email inbox — or a child’s. (The sending of pornography to children is illegal in many jurisdictions.)Some spammers argue that most of these costs could potentially be alleviated by having spammers reimburse ISPs and individuals for their material. There are two problems with this logic: first, the rate of reimbursement they could credibly budget is unlikely to be nearly high enough to pay the cost; and second, the human cost (lost mail, lost time, and lost opportunities) is basically unrecoverable.E-mail spam is a true tragedy of the commons, where a small number of non-cooperators force costs in a system which would have extremely low costs in a community of co-operators. Since E-mail is so cheap to send, a tiny number of spammers can saturate the Internet with junk mail. Although only a tiny number of their targets are motivated to purchase their products (or fall victim to their scams), this is a sufficient conversion rate to keep spamming alive. Furthermore, even though spam appears not to be economically viable as a way for a reputable company to do business, it suffices for professional spammers to convince a tiny proportion of gullible advertisers that it is for them to stay in business.Statistics (source: James Gleick’s article in The Observer, 2 March 2003) 10 billion spam emails sent every day 30 billion expected by 2005 150 spammers send 90% of all email A new email account set up to experiment received spam after 540 seconds 37% of US email is spam. 1 in 12 of UK emails. EU businesses spend 10 billion euros each year to deal with spamComparison to postal “junk” mailEmail spam is sometimes compared to so-called “junk mail” sent via the postal service, particularly by advertisers. Those who oppose spamming point out that a firm which sends advertisements in the post has to pay for the printing and the postage. In contrast, spammers do not cover the costs of transit, delivery, and storage of their messages: the recipient site or ISP absorbs these costs.In the case of the United States Postal Service, for instance, bulk mail senders may pay a lower rate than first-class mail — but they are required to pre-sort their mailings and apply bar codes. This makes their mail much cheaper for the post office to process. Though the economics of the USPS vary from year to year, much of the time bulk mail ends up subsidizing the delivery of manually sorted first-class mail.Another distinction is that the cost of sending bulk mail scales with the number of copies sent, whereas the cost to the spammer of sending spam does not. An advertiser who sends one million pieces of bulk postal mail may expect to spend ten times as much as one who sends one hundred thousand pieces. However, for a spammer to send one million spam messages doesn’t cost much more than to send fewer. Thus, spammers do not have the bulk mailer’s incentive to prune their lists of invalid addresses or those unlikely to buy.Finally, bulk mail is by and large used by businesses who are traceable and can be held responsible for what they send. Laws restrict the sending of pornographic materials in the post, and governmental agencies (postal inspectors) exist to enforce these laws. Spammers frequently operate on a fly-by-night basis, using the so-called “anarchy” of the Internet, and its unfamiliarity to law enforcement, as a cover.Defense against spamThe enormous problems and hazards of allowing spam to flood the Internet unchecked has prompted a great many invididual users and groups to take action against spammers. Common methods used to block spam include: Use of spam filter software (similar to killfiles) ISPs installing spam filters Reporting spammers to their ISPs, or to the federal government Suing spammers directlyAn extensive look at the methods of defending against spam can be found in the Wikipedia article Stopping E-mail abuse. Although spam has taken many additional forms besides email, the majority of spam-related activities have involved email; actions against other types of spam are also included under the topic of defending against “email abuse.”Spam-related activitiesA number of other online activities and business practices are considered by anti-spam activists to be connected to spamming. These are sometimes termed spam-support services. A number of DNSBLs, including the MAPS RBL, Spamhaus SBL, and SPEWS, target the providers of spam-support services as well as spammers.Some Internet hosting firms advertise bulk-friendly or “bulletproof” hosting. This means that, unlike most ISPs, they will not terminate a customer for spamming.  (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=bulletproof+spam+hosting) These hosting firms are clients of larger ISPs, and many have eventually been taken offline by these larger ISPs as a result of complaints regarding spam activity. Thus, while a firm may advertise bulletproof hosting, it is ultimately unable to deliver without the connivance of its upstream ISP. Related is the anti-spam term “pink contract”, which refers to a spammer’s hosting contract with an ISP which exempts the spammer from normal acceptable-use policies.A small number of companies produce spamware, or email software designed for the purposes and needs of spammers. Spamware varies widely, but common features include the ability to import thousands of addresses, to generate random addresses, to insert fraudulent headers into messages, to use dozens or hundreds of mail servers simultaneously, and to make use of open proxies. The sale of spamware is illegal in eight U.S. states.  (http://spamhaus.org/rationale.html)So-called “millions CDs” are commonly advertised in spam. These are CD-ROMs purportedly containing lists of millions of email addresses, for use in sending spam to these addresses. Such lists are also sold directly online, frequently with the false claim that the owners of the listed addresses have requested (or “opted in”) to be included. A great many of these email addresses are invalid, and many of them belong to Internet accounts that have long since been closed or shut down.  (http://www.google.com/search?q=millions+of+email+addresses&btnG=Google+Search)Spam-related political issuesOne of the chief values favored by many long-time Internet users and experts, as well as by many members of the public, is the free exchange of ideas. Many have valued the relative anarchy of the Internet, and bridle at the idea of restrictions placed upon it. Some see spam-blocking tools as a threat to free expression — and laws against spamming as an untoward precedent for regulation or taxation of email and the Internet at large.Two common refrains from spam-fighters address these concerns: First, spamming itself abridges the historical freedom of the Internet, by attempting to force users to carry the costs of material which they would not choose. Second, to treat spam as unlawful requires no new incursion of law into the online world, merely the application of existing laws against trespass and conversion.An ongoing concern expressed by parties such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU has to do with so-called “stealth blocking”, a term for ISPs employing aggressive spam blocking without their users’ knowledge. These groups’ concern is that ISPs or technicians seeking to reduce spam-related costs may select tools which (either through error or design) also block non-spam email from sites seen as “spam-friendly”. SPEWS is a common target of these criticisms. Few object to the existence of these tools; it is their use in filtering the mail of users who are not informed of their use which draws fire.Current events related to spammingAs at Civil libertarians are alarmed at the ICPEA draft bill, on the basis that it does not contain sufficient checks and balances, and would adversely impact the Freedom of Information Act.On New York Times reported that a research company called Ferris Research estimated the cost of spam, when considering the waste in computing resources and work time, is $10 billion in the United States alone in 2003.See also: Stopping E-mail abuse electronic mailing list netiquette Serdar Argic make money fast Spamhaus Project marketing advertising e-marketing Alan Ralsky information technology management management information systems managementLists of related topics list of information technology management topics list of management topics list of computing topics list of marketing topics list of Internet topics list of economics topics list of ethics topics list of finance topics list of accounting topics list of business law topics list of people (business) list of economistsNewsgroups news.admin.net-abuse.email news.admin.net-abuse.usenet others in news.admin.net-abuse.* hierarchy alt.spamExternal linksMore writing on the subjectHormel Foods (http://www.hormel.com)Spam FAQs (http://www.spamfaq.net)Yahoo News search for spam-related news (updated regularly) (http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news/?c=&p=spam+email)California lawyer who sues spammers (http://www.timothywalton.com)Address Munging FAQ: Spam-Blocking Your Email Address (http://members.aol.com/emailfaq/mungfaq.html)Tools to reduce the impactDisposable e-mail accounts, various types for registering on web sites etc.spamgourmet (http://www.spamgourmet.com) expire after a number of emails, but can be reset or ignored for some sendersjetable (http://jetable.org/) expiring in 1-8 daysMaking it harder to harvest e-mail addresseshide email addresses (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/jamesday/antispam/obfuscate/index.htm) on web sites from harvesting toolsTools to filter out spamSpamPal (http://www.spampal.org/) free (really) Windows filter with lots of filtering methods. Client or server-side filteringOther toolsSpamCop (http://spamcop.net) a place to report spamSam Spade (http://www.samspade.org/ssw/) program with toolsThis article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, and uses material from the Wikipedia article “spamming”.
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