Analysis: Spam 'celebrates' its 30th birthday

Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the first spam email, which found its way to 393 employees of the Arpanet Corporation on 3 May 1978.

From these small beginnings, spam has now become a phenomenon - with an estimated several billion unsolicited bulk e-mails being sent every day.

Users now expect the majority of unfiltered messages reaching their inbox to be spam. This is because it is commercially viable, due to the lack of operating cost and the virtual impossibility of holding senders accountable.

Sophos revealed that 92.3 per cent of all emails sent during the first three months of 2008 was spam in its most recent Security Threat Report. It found 23,300 new spam-related webpages per year, discovering one every three seconds.

"Users are always just a click away from spam - from weight loss medications to drugs used to improve sexual performance, spam is a burden on all of us," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

"What's worse is that a lot of spam is deliberately malicious today, aiming to steal your bank account information or install malware."

The Spam email was sent on the 3 May 1978 by Gary Thuerk, a marketing representative at the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).

"Gary Thuerk could never have imagined what he was starting when he sent that mass email 30 years ago," Cluley said.

"The internet community needs to do what it can to make sure that spam doesn't celebrate a 40th or 50th birthday. That means educating the public about never buying goods sold via spam."

The date also coincided with the end of McAfee's S.P.A.M experiment, which IT PRO reported on in March.

Participants were given a laptop wihtout spam protection and an email address, and given a mission to click on all ads and all pop-ups.

Vic, a retired surfer who took part in the experiment, said on the blog: "I have so many Nigerian, Hong Kong, French and Ghanaian inheritances promised, at least half a dozen lottery winnings due to me (which I musn't tell anyone about), and a hundred cash gifts, refunds/ grants/payable any day now. Why work?"