SPAM:
Those Junk E-Mail Messages
You Love to Hate

Vicky Vickers

SPAM: (1976) used for a canned meat consisting primarily of pork products. Webster's Third New International Dictionary

SPAM: (1997) text information of a useless or mindlessly promotional nature, widely and repeatedly distributed without prior solicitation or consent through the Internet. The Historical Spam Museum and Archive (www.visi.com/~drow/spam/about.html)

SPAM (spam) n. -med

  1. Common: Canned luncheon meat made by Hormel, considered by many to have no nutritive value.
  2. Internet: The act of posting the same information repeatedly in inappropriate places and/or too many places so as to overburden the Internet. - vt. spam-ming. The Grid (www.thegrid.net/clear/spam.htm)

A Little History
Where did the term SPAM for junk e-mail originate? I found two versions. According to most popular version, the term came from a skit in the second series of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" in which a man and woman are trying to order breakfast and every item on the menu contains varying amounts of SPAM, with the word "SPAM" occuring hundreds of times. You can read a transcript of the skit on Russell Smith's site (www.camalott.com/~rssmith/spam.html).

The second version comes from The Grid, a California-wide ISP, (www.thegrid.net/clear/spam.htm). It tells of a young man in the early days of the Internet, who getting frustrated while visiting a site typed SPAM SPAM SPAM repeatedly until he was cut off. After that, the group he was "spamming" referred to the incident as "that @!#$! who spammed us".

A Big Nuisance
No matter which definition or history you choose to believe, SPAM is fast becoming one of the biggest nuisances on the Internet. It arrives at our computers both as unsolicited e-mail messages and on newsgroups. Why do they send it, where do they get your e-mail address and how can we stop it?

The "why" is obvious. Because the spammers make money from spamming. They know that nearly all the persons they send their junk e-mail to won't be interested. However, there are usually a gullible few who take them up on whatever they're offering. For example, if they send out 100,000 messages, they may only get 10 sales. But if what they're selling costs around $100, they have made a thousand dollars for very little effort or cost. And the rate of return is probably higher than that.

As for the "where", one of the favourite places to acquire valid e-mail addresses is from Usenet newsgroups. Also, some listservs (not VMUGs) publish their correspondence on newsgroups which are then published on websites. So while you may think you're posting to a closed group, it is being republished in a much more open atmosphere. Try looking for your name sometime on a search engine such as AltaVista or InfoSeek. The results may surprise you! A third place spammers find valid e-mail addresses is embedded in webpages. Robots can be programmed to go out into the World Wide Web and search for that magical @ sign in webpages, allowing them to grab the e-mail address it is part of.

How Can We Stop SPAM?
The only way to stop SPAM completely is to close your e-mail account. Most of us don't want to do that, but would like to let our feelings be known. There are several things you can do (and shouldn't do), I will mention a couple here, however for more ideas, use the list of anti-spam sites at the end of this article.

The major thing you should not do is reply to the spammer asking them to remove you from their list, even when they invite you to do so. The general opinion is this only has the effect of confirming that your e-mail address is valid which could result in them selling it to other spammers, thereby increasing the amount of SPAM you receive. Also, they expect the majority of people to discard their message and don't really care if it upsets you. Cleansing their lists would take time which equals money they don't want to spend.

The most effective method I have found is to send a message to their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Please keep in mind that most ISPs don't like spamming any more than you do and don't allow their members to send junk e-mail messages. So be polite! A suggested method is:

  1. Expand the header on the offending message (if you're using Eudora, click on the "Blah, Blah" icon at the top of the message).

  2. Look for the originating ISP's domain name, usually you'll find it on the line which says "From". If there are more than two parts to the domain name, (e.g. on a recent message I found "mco.bellsouth.net") use only the last two parts (e.g. bellsouth.net), the rest is not needed.

  3. Forward the whole message, with expanded headers, to the abuse address of ISP concerned, e.g. I would forward the above message to "abuse@bellsouth.net".

  4. Change the subject line in your message to the ISP to say "Spamming".

  5. Add a short message such as "Help stop spamming. Please talk to your member about messages like the one below." at the top of the message with a short line (use the underline key) between it and the message your forwarding.

  6. Check the expanded header for other domain names and repeat steps 3, 4 & 5.

  7. If your message is returned, try sending the message to postmaster@ or root@.

I usually only send to the abuse@ address as I feel that if the ISP isn't concerned enough to have an abuse@ address, they probably aren't really concerned about spamming. SPAM often carries a fake return address, which is why you need to expand the headers to have a better idea where its coming from. Replies to SPAM often bounce!

Note: After following this procedure on the BellSouth message, I got a note from them saying "Thank you very much for taking the time to inform us of this situation. In accordance with BellSouth.net's Appropriate Use Policies, the Internet services account of mcgs@bellsouth.net has been canceled." It works, not all the time, but it does work!

The Hidden Costs of SPAM
Spamming is costing Internet users and providers around the world an incalculable amount of money. E-mail advertising costs the receiver more than it does the sender. It uses up both your and your ISP's on-line time. Spammers sometimes send their messages through intermediate ISPs in an effort to hide the source of the message. The massive amounts of mail passing through tie-up the intermediate ISP's mail system, annoying their members. Sometimes, spammers will take out a temporary account for a day or two on a trial basis, send out their SPAM then abandon the account, leaving the ISP involved with the proverbial "egg on the face". Then their staff has to deal with the hundreds or thousands of complaints from anti-spammers.

SPAM is nasty! SPAM is expensive! Help stamp out SPAM!

Don't ignore it, complain about it. But complain politely because the person you're complaining to may be as much of a victim of the SPAM as you are. Above all don't be gullible and purchase anything from a spammer. You could end up spending money on nothing! And, you'll encourage them to continue spamming.

WWW Sites on SPAM
Some useful sites for further information on SPAM are:

Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (Cauce)
www.cauce.org/

Death to SPAM
www.mindworkshop.com/alchemy/nospam.html

Getting Rid of "Spam" (Randy Cassingham, This is True)
www2.thisistrue.com/true/spam.html

Internet EMail Marketing Council (IEMMC)
www.iemmc.org/

Junkbusters (for all forms of junk communications)
www.junkbusters.com/

Junkbusters Guide to Staying Off Junk Email List
www.junkbusters.com/ht/en/harvesting.html

Network Abuse Clearinghouse
abuse.net/

Spammers do more than spam
spam.abuse.net/scams/index.html

Stop Junk E-Mail (Bob Mascott)
www.cmhc.com/articles/junke.htm

Stopping Mail-Bombing (Christopher D. Reagoso)
www.ilf.net/brotherhood/texts/txt/htsamb.html

Why is Spam bad?
spam.abuse.net/spambad.html

Tip
Last month, in my article on search engines, I mentioned using the word "and" between keywords (or group of search words) to lessen the number of results your search produces . Shortly after I wrote the article I was searching for several items and found a way to reduce the results even further simply by putting the + symbol in front of each one of the keywords, including the first one. Try it, its really slick! Not all search engines work this way, but it worked well on AltaVista when I tried it.

Acknowledgements
This article was published in the October 1997 issue of the Victoria Macintosh Users Group's monthly newsletter "MACtalk" in Vicky's monthly article "VMUG On-Line" and in the Winter 1997 issue of the Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria's quarterly on-line newsletter.

Vicky Vickers is the owner of Word Crunchers, Etc. which specializes in website design and HTML training. She is a past-president (1994-6) and former webmaster (1995-8) of Victoria Macintosh Users Group (VMUG). She also founded and was the first president (1996) of the Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria (WEAV).

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