At 20 Years Old, Email Spam Is Alive & Well & Proving Bill Gates Wrong

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It’s probably not the kind of anniversary anyone will celebrate.

Commercial internet spam turned 20 years old this month. The industry uses April 12, 1994 as spam’s birthday — the day that a “Green Card Lawyers” solicitation was sent to more than 6,000 Usenet newsgroups across the web.

Today, there’s plenty of spam on social networks and in other types of online marketing, but most of us probably think of email when talking about spam. If you’re like me, battling email spam is a never-ending game of cat and mouse — tweaking spam filter settings, blacklisting and whitelisting domains, deleting emails that reach the In box, etc.

Kaspersky Labs recently estimated that about 70 percent of all email worldwide in February was spam.

kaspersky-spam-chart

Where Does Email Spam Come From?

Sophos, the security software/hardware company, recently posted its quarterly look at email spam trends and named two countries as the spam champions: the United States, for relaying the most spam of any country, and Belarus, for relaying the most spam per person.

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2014-q1-dirty-dozen-by-pop-12501

In both cases, the US and Belarus have held those “titles” for at least the past year running. The US tops the first chart based on the sheer size of our internet population. Sophos says the US ranks 27th in the per person list.

And to be clear, Sophos isn’t tracking the origin countries for all of this spam — it’s tracking the use of botnets to relay spammy emails.

That’s because cybercrooks don’t send their own spam: that would be expensive, and easy to track, and would point the finger of law enforcement right back at them.

Instead, the crooks co-opt innocent third parties – like you and me, or our friends and family – to send spam for them.

The criminals use malware-infected computers as remote control “spam robots,” better known as bots or zombies, to churn out unwanted and illegal emails on their behalf.

That same Kaspersky report that I mentioned earlier does look at email origins and says that China is No. 1 at about 23 percent, and the U.S. is No. 2 at 19 percent.

20 Years Of Spam

Cloudmark recently took a look at spam’s 20-year history — including a screenshot of that original “Green Card Lawyers” message sent across Usenet. It also includes the interesting fact that one of the first spam-related lawsuits involved a spammer suing for the right to have his email delivered. (The nerve!)

Cloudmark also put together this infographic showing the history of spam. (You can click for the larger version.)

cloudmark-20-years-of-spam

Bill Gates’ Spam Prediction: Not Even Close

Cloudmark’s article concludes by saying that “we have not won the war on spam, but for the past decade we have been winning all the battles.”

That may be true, but the fact that spam remains alive and well is proving Bill Gates wrong. It was ten years ago, at the 2004 World Economic Forum, that Gates famously predicted the end of spam within two years.

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“Two years from now, spam will be solved,” Gates said then.

Sorry, Bill. Not even close. Spam’s still going strong at 20 years old.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: Email Marketing | Email Marketing | Features & Analysis | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Steve

    It seems like there is more spam today than before. Spam must be working, or spammers would’ve quit long time ago.

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