A Brief History of Spam [Infographic]

Written by Casper Manes on February 12, 2013

You asked for it, you’ve got it, readers of AllSpammedUp.com! Based on some of the comments that we received in my last article, I thought I would start out a new series of articles on this history of spam.  Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at the origin of spam, how it got its name, and how it grew from minor nuisance to major problem, the financial impact from the perspective of both sender and recipient, and how the various technologies we use to counter spam operate. Here’s what you can look forward to over the next several weeks.

We’ll start out with the origins of email itself, since without email, we wouldn’t have spam at all. We’ll see how, as email grew from researcher’s novelty to both a mission critical business application and something almost as common as a cellphone, spam was first born, and then grew into what we all know and love today.

Then we will cover the evolution of anti-spam technologies, from the first simple word filters and sender blacklists to Bayesian filters and reputation lists. We’ll also look at some of the technologies that have been proposed over time to combat spam, and see why they didn’t catch on.

No series on spam would be complete without an article or two taking a look at some of the most notorious and prolific spammers, whether they are individuals or organized groups. And no look at spammers would be complete without a review of some of the worst and most impactful of the various malware that spammers use to peddle their wares.

We’re even going to spend a little time looking at the various regulations that are out there designed to combat spam, and why they seem to have so little impact.

To round out this introduction, I’d like to include an infographic from my friends over at Marketo. Disclosure-I’ve used Marketo several times in the past as the sender of bulk email for companies I have worked for. These guys understand SPF, DKIM, the importance of using opt-in mailing lists, and how critical it is to process unsubscribe requests immediately.

The Evolution of Spam - An Email Marketing Infographic by Marketo

If there’s anything you think should be included in the coming weeks, leave a comment below and let me know. Like many of our series, this one can adapt over time so it’s never too late to put in a request. Otherwise, I look forward to reading your comments as we look at a brief history of spam.

Comments

Laura February 12, 2013

This series will be fun and very useful to read! Bravo for starting it! It will be great, if you can show us some sample spam messages from last century just to see how they evolved with the medium.

Dolores February 15, 2013

Wow, that was a very informative post! It still doesn’t change the way I look at it, but this just made me smile. I am going to share it to my friends as well as to social media such as Facebook and Pinterest. By the way, why don’t you have its button in your page? Hey, Pinterest is now one of the biggest social media websites out there. I think one of the biggest points I get out of this is that spam, or the concept of it, isn’t just limited to the Internet. As long as it is unsolicited, it can be considered as spamming.

Bernard February 20, 2013

That is extremely cool! Who would have thought that those early murals or paintings on the cave walls are actually spam? Is it safe to assume now that it’s inherent among humans to do it—that is, give something that is unsolicited? I’d like to think so. I guess the only reason why we’re reacting this way about spam is because unlike our primitive ancestors we are very much concerned about our privacy. If someone sends us an e-mail from a stranger, we immediately think someone got hold of our contact details without our permission. That’s enough to drive us real crazy!

Aldrin February 21, 2013

I enjoyed the caveman thing as well, Bernard, and I agree with your point that maybe it’s already in our human nature to spam. But I’d like to comment on other two things: one, according to the picture, it was unsolicited, so ever since those who have been subjected to spam never really enjoyed it. This then brings to my second point, which is that it’s also normal for us to hate it a lot, and we need to do something so it doesn’t go on and on and potentially hate our loved ones later.

Dwight Fordham February 22, 2013

Oh goodness, I can definitely remember those chain letters. They’re practically everywhere! Some of them ended in our porch, while the rest were in our churches. They were the ultimate bullcrap. The first few encounters were really creepy, and it made me think if there’s some truth to it. Later on, I understood how low people could go just to get some of their wishes granted. One time, I came across a man who handed me a chain letter about this particular saint. If I didn’t share it, I would die within seven days. Well, I immediately handed it back to him and told him to start looking for a decent job.

Dennis May 2, 2013

Chain letters! Yes, I remember them, too, Dwight! Well, I still get them time-to-time nowadays. I get them in my email, on Facebook, Twitter and even on Instagram! But, yes, the original chain letters were really annoying – and scary sometimes. I know it has been at the back of my mind, but it is only now that I really acknowledged the connection of these chain letters to spamming. Anyway, I think that this infographic post points out the most significant contributors to spam development. It is a colorful and interesting way of warning people about the dangers of spam.

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