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Spam, it's not just for lunch

By C.J. CASTILLO
Oct. 2, 2009 at 5:02 a.m.
Updated Oct. 4, 2009 at 5:04 a.m.


Just this week, I finally sat down and decided to go through the tedious task of cleaning my e-mail inbox. The reason I put off this task for so long, is because I dreaded wading through all the e-mails, trying to find messages from actual people, all while deleting the multitude of spam messages that accumulate every day.

While I was deleting all the spam, I started to wonder about the history of these pesky messages promising riches, fast weight loss solutions, and various natural remedies for just about anything that ails you.

How did these electronic messages, also referred to as unsolicited commercial e-mails, come to be associated with the famous canned meat?

Believe it or not, to find the answer to this question I did a search on Spam.com, one of the family of Web sites owned by the Hormel Foods Corporation. A page titled "Spam® Brand and the Internet" describes how Hormel's canned meat product become associated with junk e-mail. The use of the term originated from a Monty Python skit featuring the Spam product. In this skit, which was televised in 1970, a man and woman try to order from a menu that includes Spam in every dish. Later on in the skit, a group of Vikings sing a chorus of "spam, spam, spam," drowning out all conversation.

According to the statement on Hormel's Web site, "the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet."

On May 3, 1978, the first recognized spam e-mail message was sent on Arpanet, a network started by the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency. That first spam message, sent by Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager for Digital Equipment Corp., publicized an open house event for a new line of computer systems. Since that day spam has grown exponentially over the years, gaining a boost as Internet access became more common around the world.

Earlier this year Microsoft released their Security and Intelligence Report for 2008. Included in this report was the fact that 97 percent of all e-mails sent over the Internet were unwanted, meaning they were spam, phishing attacks or had malicious attachments. Spam was dominated by advertisements for pharmaceutical products. A report released by the computer security McAfee revealed that in 2008 over 62 trillion spam e-mails were sent around the world.

With so much spam attacking our inboxes, what is a person to do?

There are several things you can do, one being setting up a spam filter to help combat the inbox pests. Many Internet providers and e-mail services provide this feature for free, and you can also purchase software for additional protection.

If you are a fan of signing up for newsletters and freebies on the Internet, it may be a good idea to have a separate account to use specifically for this. You can sign up for a free e-mail account using a service like Gmail or Yahoo.

And even though you really feel like telling that Nigerian prince where he can send that $3 million in riches he is promising, try to avoid opening or responding to spam. Some spam messages have a "web beacon" which verifies to the sender that your address is valid, and then that sender can sell your address to other spammers.

So to all of my fellow spam battling warriors, delete, repeat and defeat.

CJ Castillo is the interactivity editor for the Victoria Advocate. You can follow her on Twitter (@cjcastillo) or contact her at cjcastillo@vicad.com or sent care of Victoria Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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