ZD Tech: Spam, spam, spam!

Hello everyone and welcome to ZD Tech, ‘s daily editorial podcast. My name is Louis Adam and today I will explain to you Why Spam Doesn’t Disappear More Than 40 Years After It Was Invented.

Spam is almost as old as the Internet and it won’t go away anytime soon. Spam is what we usually refer to as unwanted emails that clutter up our inboxes. The name comes from a famous Monty Python sketch parodying the heavy-handed advertising gimmicks of a British ham brand. The abbreviation “Spiced Ham” gives “SPAM”.

Excellent publicity stunt

The first appearance of spam in general dates back to the end of the 70s, when the Internet did not yet exist. Well, not in its current form. However, the first version of the network, known as ARPANET, connected several thousand computers, usually belonging to universities and academic research centers. But computing is a business, and the ability to send emails gives ideas to a marketing manager at DEC, which sells computer models.

In May 1978, he decided to send a message to 400 netizens to invite them all to a presentation of his company’s new line of computers. The same e-mail was sent to a large number of users to praise the merits of the product, the recipients of which probably don’t care: the reactions are rather negative, but the method still allows the company to sell some cars.

And that’s the paradox of spam: while it’s usually perceived as a nuisance, mass marketing emails to users can very often generate sales at a very minimal cost.

Over the years, the Internet will gradually eclipse ARPANET, and more and more users will connect to the network. And spam will become more important as the number of Internet users grows: in 2020, Kaspersky Lab estimated that 50% of emails sent to the network could be classified as spam. In the most conservative estimates, other sources suggest that the spam rate is approaching 80%.

cat and mouse

However, techniques to deal with this nuisance have evolved since the 1980s. Email service providers such as Gmail have developed powerful filters that can identify and block upstream emails before they even reach your inbox. Associations such as Spamhaus or France Signal Spam are also working to identify and block organizations that distribute unsolicited emails.

But in the face of this, cybercriminals are also developing new tools to send spam and bypass existing filters. Spam remains profitable: it allows advertising of regulated services and products such as drugs, online casinos or pornography. Spam is also used to spread scams, phishing attempts or, in some cases, malware.

And as long as it continues to pay off, the cat-and-mouse game isn’t going to stop. Especially since today spam is no longer limited to email: spam techniques can also be used for SMS, messaging software or directly on the Internet.

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