Spamming is the act of sending unsolicited messages to many users at a time, possibly up to the thousands, with the usual intention of advertising products to potential customers. Spamming can also be used as a form of irritation by singling out an email address and sending the owner of that address hundreds of emails per second. Spamming is usually random and untargeted but it can be targeted to either a group of people, for example, advertisements that cater to a particular group of people, or a certain person, like in the case of spamming for the purpose of irritating the public.
Few countries have any laws, if at all, that treat spamming as a criminal act. This is probably because spamming is considered a minor offence though it is becoming more and more significant. Since the surge in spamming occurred a few years ago, forming an estimated 7 percent of all email traffic in 2001, it has been found that spam does cause a lot of damage. A study conducted by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore in 2003 revealed that spam accounts for one third of all Singaporean email users’ total incoming email and cost an estimated $20 million in lost productivity as time was used in sifting through the junk emails.
List of customers
Some are paid a certain amount of money for every email address that they obtain.
Usually, a list of potential customers has already been prepared beforehand. This list comprises of all the email addresses which possibly exist and are still active. This list is regularly updated to accommodate new, unsuspecting users. It is either obtained just before the act of spamming or is kept in a database that is regularly updated by sites which help obtain this data for the company that is doing the spamming. The reason why there are sites which do this is because they are paid a certain amount of money for every email address that they obtain. The amount may seem meager, but by economies of scale, when thousands or even millions of email addresses are obtained, the amount is translated into something that is significant and it might even help a small, struggling company survive. A program is usually used and it is fed in this list of email addresses. An email message would also be input into the program and then the program will scroll through every one of the email addresses and send the same email over and over to all the email addresses in the list.
Brute forcing of email addresses
A brute forcer generates random email addresses, and emails are sent to these random addresses.
Another method involves sending emails to addresses that are generated by a brute forcer. A seed might be planted and random characters are appended to this seed to form email addresses or the entire email address might be composed of random characters. The brute forcer might even refer to a dictionary and thus, will construct email addresses based on words in the dictionary. An email message will then be input and emails will be sent to each and everyone of the generated email addresses, regardless of whether they are valid or not. This technique is very slow and is usually deployed by companies that have much more resources available for wastage.
Email flooding involves sending huge volumes of emails to a single user at any one time.
The last method involves sending huge volumes of emails to a single user at any one time. Spam is a major source of irritation. This is because the huge volumes of junk take a lot of time to be sifted through to be deleted in order to ensure that real useful emails are not deleted. The fact that spam is a major source of irritation is exploited by spammers. They usually use a program which allows them to enter the email address of a person they want to “flood” (the term for single-user spamming) and the number of emails to send to that person. Modern computers have enough power and broadband networks provide enough bandwidth to allow through many emails at a time. The program will create multiple parallel runs or “threads” which simultaneously send the same email over and over again to the entered email address until the specified number is met.
Spamming need not be limited to just email. There are other mediums that can be used to perpetuate spam over the internet. Here are some of them:
- Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
IRC is a public avenue for Internet users to chat. Messages can easily be sent across channels or to all users in a certain channel. This can be easily exploited to disseminate information like advertisements or links to sites or even publicity for a certain channel on that particular IRC network itself.
- Instant Messengers (AOL, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!, etc.)
Instant messengers, though they involve only the people whom the user wants to add, can still be exploited by anybody on that particular user’s list. It could either be that that person on his list had his or her computer hijacked by a spammer or he or she thinks nothing of spamming people on his or her contact list. Thus, by using the right tools, a certain message can be easily sent to each and everyone on a particular contact list.
- Newsgroups and forums
Although these do not allow the easy spread of information to many users at the same time, unwanted advertisements or messages can still be posted on them and these use up resources on such newsgroups and forums. They also waste a user’s time if he or she clicks it only to find out that it is useless to him or her.
It is all too easy to dismiss spam as nothing more than a very minor nuisance but in our fast-paced world, time is money and the time spent deleting these emails is money wasted. And on a large scale, considering that nearly a billion people are online right now and possibly receiving spam, one can imagine what a massive nuisance spam will translate to in the near future.
Information about spam
FTC - SPAM - Home Page
Why Am I Getting All This Spam?