Spamming is a shady form of advertising done via sending email in bulk to random email addresses gathered from publicly available sources with the intent to sell or promote something. Most spam are harmless pieces of sales literature you can safely drag to your computer’s trash bin. Some, however, may contain malicious links and come with harmful file attachments.

You may wonder how junk email was named after a brand of canned meat. Some people may consider SPAM (the canned meat) as undesirable as unsolicited email ads. But the use of the word comes from a 1970s TV skit from the iconic comedy group Monty Python. In the skit, everytime the waitress mentions “SPAM,” some Vikings start singing “SPAM! SPAM!” This drowns out all conversation in the same way spam email overloads your inbox.

Read More about “Spam”

Spam mails refer to emails sent in bulk to promote a web page, product, or service.

When Was the First Commercial Spam Sent?

Husband and wife Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel, both lawyers, were the first to use spam to promote their immigration law services on 5 March 1994. Their bulk message came to be known as “green card spam.” Most of their recipients were unhappy with the tactic but the couple argued that sending unsolicited ads was a form of free speech.

When Did Spamming Start Becoming a Problem?

Spam became a problem as soon as Internet usage was commercialized in the mid-1990s. Many users considered it an invasion of their privacy as spammers typically obtained their contact information by using email address databases that may or may not have been compiled legally or with their owners’ permission.

What Media Does Spam Affect?

Over time, spam has not only invaded users’ email inboxes but also other platforms. Here are some of them.

  • Instant messaging apps: Spammers typically sent unwanted ads to users of various instant messaging apps like Yahoo! Messenger, Skype, and others.
  • Newsgroups and forums: Spammers made use of these most during Usenet’s heyday.
  • Social networks: Spammers took advantage of these platforms when Facebook usage became widespread.
  • Blogs, wikis, and guestbooks: Blogs, wikis, and guestbooks also suffer from spamming, which takes the form of ads disguised as comments.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones: Spamming on these devices are akin to telemarketing calls. What makes them different is that spammers typically offer nonexistent or fake products and services.

Are All Spam Emails Malicious?

The quick answer is no. But these days, it’s quite unusual for legitimate businesses to spam users to market their products and services since spamming is deemed illegal in many countries like the U.S., Canada, and European nations.

The following are some of the anti-spamming laws worldwide:

  • U.S.: Controlling the Assault of Nonsolicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act in 2003
  • Canada: Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)
  • European Union (EU): General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • Portugal: Decree-Law No. 7/2004 of January 7, 2004
  • U.K.: Electronic Communications and Privacy Regulations (PECR)
  • Germany: Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb (UWG)
  • Australia: Spam Act of 2003

What Forms Do Malicious Spam Emails Take?

Malicious spam can take various forms, such as:

  • Emails that contain a link that when clicked takes the user to a malicious page, typically a phishing site
  • Emails that come with an attachment that when downloaded installs malware on the user’s computer

Here are some interesting spam statistics.

spam statistics


What Are the Different Types of Spam?

Over time, we’ve seen various kinds of spam emerge, including:

  • Spoofed emails: Spammers pretend to be part of a legitimate company asking users to perform specific actions, such as settling an unpaid invoice.
  • Tech support emails: Spammers pretend to be part of a legitimate service provider (e.g., streaming service Netflix) telling users there’s a problem with their accounts and asking them to click a link to a fake login page, which harvests their login credentials.
  • Current events-related emails: Spammers ride on newsworthy topics like the COVID-19 pandemic to ask users for donations to fake causes.
  • Nigerian prince or advanced fee emails: Spammers promise users big rewards in exchange for a minimal cash advance.

What Are the Usual Indicators That an Email Is a Malicious Spam?

Users can spot spam emails via these characteristics:

  • Unfamiliar tone, which happens when a family member you’re close to suddenly sends you a formal message
  • Grammar and spelling errors that occurs because most spammers don’t take time to check for them or aren’t native English speakers
  • Inconsistent email address and domain name; emails from legitimate companies use the same domain name (e.g., microsoft[.]com) for email accounts and web pages
  • Use of threats or a sense of urgency, such as “Your account has been hacked. Change your password now by clicking [LINK TO A FAKE LOGIN PAGE].”
  • Unusual attachments like compressed files that users don’t expect to get
  • Weird requests like a bank employee asking users for their Social Security numbers when they should have these on record
  • Unbelievable offers and rewards, such as winning the lottery

Spam emails, as you’ve seen, can not only be annoying and fill your inbox fast but also dangerous if sent by threat actors out to steal your account credentials, personal information, or money.

Key Takeaways

  • Spam mails refer to emails sent in bulk to promote a malicious web page, product, or service.
  • The first commercial spam was sent on 5 March 1994.
  • It’s illegal to send spam in the U.S., Canada, the EU, Portugal, the U.K., Germany, and Australia.

Other interesting terms…