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Spam

This article was originally published on the London Tribe web magazine in October 2000.

SPAM, SPAM AND MORE SPAM, YOU'LL HAVE THE SPAM SIR?

What is spamming? Spam e-mails are unsolicited e-mails sent to you by companies or people wishing to plug their products or services to you. It is an Internet version of "Junk mail" and the problem that people quite rightly have with spamming is that it is an unsolicited attempt to send you messages or adverts, over the Internet, when you would probably rather not wish to receive them. The majority of spam messages are from companies wishing to sell you something; usually finance. The term spamming is believed to have come from the Monty Python sketch "Well, we have Spam, tomato & Spam, egg & Spam, Egg, bacon & Spam...", in which the customer is getting spam whether he wants it or not. The sketch was also contemporary when spam first began arriving on the Internet.

Companies create potential target lists by scanning Usenet postings (newsgroups); acquiring Internet mailing lists and searching the Web for addresses. The information is gathered using automated searches to retrieve e-mail addresses for spamming. There is also such a thing as an opt-in e-mail, which is not strictly spam, since the email has been requested by you whilst signing up at a Web site or special ad banner. If you sign up for promotional information about one or more categories of products or services, you have "opted in", and anyone sending you e-mails as a result hopes that the message will not be perceived as unwanted spam.

Some companies gather these 'signed-up' e-mail addresses at their own site or through specially-designed banner ads and then sell mailing lists of those who have signed up based on the interests that you specify. You are usually given an opportunity to be removed from the mailing list, if you choose, by clicking on the "remove from mailing list" link in the email.

But what can you do about unwanted spam? Firstly, when you receive a spam email, NEVER reply to it (not even to tell them to remove you from their list). This simply confirms that you have a working e-mail account to which they can keep sending their unsolicited spam. The best way to avoid spam mail is to filter the emails that you receive, using your mail program's filter. Most mail send/receive programs have filters that will allow you to control the e-mails that you receive. However, the filters are not perfect and spam e-mails can still sometimes get through. Be careful how you set up your filters, as there is always a risk that you might eliminate legitimate mail.

Many ISPs now offer e-mail filtering, like Hotmail's 'Inbox Protector', which allows you to control what e-mail you receive in your Inbox. All unwanted mail goes directly to the Bulk Mail folder and you have the option of deleting it or marking it as 'not spam' (for genuine emails that have been mistakenly filtered). Once a genuine email has been identified in the Bulk Mail folder, the Inbox Protector will not allow it to be "binned" again.

Some web sites contain lists of spam email addresses, which you can look at. The lists are huge and give some insight into the quantity of spam emails that get sent out. You can find one such list at http://www.web-d.com/spam/spam.txt

The current explosion of spam emails is the result of huge sales of low cost e-mail spamming engines, with millions of e-mail addresses, along with the fact that the sender does not pay extra to send multiple e-mails. Currently, unless the spammer offers to sell illegal items, there is no legal way to stop the e-mail spammers.

If you are getting spam emails, forward the messages to your ISP, who should have an email address which records spam emails. You can also contact one of the anti spam sites.

Jasen Quick
October 2000

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