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Security Response

Spam: It’s Not Just for Email

Created: 11 Apr 2007 07:00:00 GMT • Updated: 23 Jan 2014 18:50:25 GMT
Dave Cole's picture
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Alright, I’ll fess up: spam has never been just for email, in spite of our cluttered inboxes that loudly protest to the contrary. Spam’s early commercial origins point back to a message to 6,000 recipients on Usenet by a couple of immigration attorneys named Canter & Siegel from Phoenix, Arizona back in 1994 who were promoting their services to enroll people in the national green card lottery. From these roots, spam moved on to its dominant format today: email. Nonetheless, the flood of SMTP-based spam we see today may obscure the other flavors of spam that have popped up, including IM spam, SMS spam, and the Web 2.0 buzzword-friendly “splog”.

I’ll spare you all the gory details on IM and SMS spam, they’re pretty straightforward. IM spam has yet to reach major proportions, but it’s certainly out there, plugging spy software, ringtones, and other services. SMS spam has been highly visible overseas since 2001, especially in Asia where SMS has been used heavily for some time, prompting Japan to enact new legislation to combat the scourge. Additionally, South Korea’s Ministry of Information and Communication moved to implement limits of 1000 messages per day per user to curb rogue marketers. In January of this year, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against two SMS spammers who blasted off no less than 5 million unsolicited text messages to cell phone users across the country in late 2006. Hold onto your seatbelt, the SMS spam phenomena has only just begun.

IM and SMS spam, as nasty as they may seem, don’t appear to be as prevalent as splogs, based on recent statistics. Splogs are fake blog sites developed with the intent of pumping traffic to affiliated Web sites or manipulating search engine results through linkflooding or other tactics. Usually, they make use of other sites’ legitimate content by “scraping” their text and re-posting as their own to improve the appearances of having real, original content. A recent study claims that 74 percent of all blogs are actually splogs created purely for advertising purposes. Even if they’re off by an order of magnitude with their numbers, that’s still a ton of splogs per legitimate blog. This threatens to diminish the overall credibility of blogs themselves as it seems to be easier to bump into junk in the blogosphere than real content.

Will we soon long for the days of simple email-based spam while sorting through garbage splogs and irritating SMS spam? It’s a little early to tell if we’re headed towards that type of nostalgia but what is clear is that spam isn’t just for email anymore.