Technicalities

SPAM: YOU'VE WON! Thirty
years ago this month, the first trickle
appeared on the West Coast ' an
unsolicited electronic message sent by
the now-defunct Digital Equipment
Corp. (DEC) promoting a new product.

It might have even seemed like a fresh
marketing idea to the several hundred
people who received it, but it was the
beginning of the deluge of electronic
malefaction we know today as spam.
From its humble beginnings May 3,
1978, spam has grown to become the
primary type of e-mail message (about
90 percent); expanded into other platforms,
such as phones, blogs and
search engines; and mutated into other
kinds of attacks, such as phishing. By
June 2007, daily spam traffic was estimated
at 100 billion messages.

The impact of spam extends beyond
the mere number of messages, however.
According to security experts,
there's a good chance your computer
is being used to send spam, having
been co-opted by an errant click into
a botnet at the command of the
spammers.

And far from DEC's original innocent
promotion, spam and other malware
have become money-making tools of
serious criminals. It can even interfere
with legitimate e-mail, as overworked
e-mail filters quarantine or reject some
of the messages you want to get.

If there's a way to break free, no one
has found it yet. Perhaps one form or
another of spam will always be with
us. The progeny of mass-market mailings,
telemarketers and even door-todoor
salesmen and hucksters of other
eras, DEC's initial electronic message
predated the Internet and e-mail as
we know it today.

When we eventually move on to the
next big thing, it's only logical that the
sales pitches and scams will find a
way to get their foot in that door, too.
So happy anniversary, spam. I have
this nice Rolex for you ... .

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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