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Glossary - SPAM

[Hormel Foods] A Registered Trademark owned by Hormel Foods Corporation, not to be confused with "spam" (junk eMail).  Hormel Foods, which was started in 1891 by George A. Hormel, has been producing SPAM ever since.  Mr. Hormel's simple but profound philosophy of "innovate...don't imitate" is very likely one of the reasons SPAM has always been such a wonderfully delicious, high quality product.

[Two cans of SPAM; Loaf, and Burger products] Hormel Foods officially granted permission on how their trademark may be used in the context of junk eMail (full details are available on their web site at  The important difference is that only Hormel's product, SPAM, should be represented entirely in upper-case lettering.  Their generosity in allowing the use of their trademark in this manner is greatly appreciated by many members of the internet community, and ensuring the correct capitalisation of their trademark is always used is strongly encouraged and highly recommended.

More information about SPAM can be obtained from the following web sites:


Synonymous with junk eMail, this term also describes the same types of intrusions in the context of usenet newsgroups, web site forums, real-time chat systems, instant messaging services, and many other protocols that facilitate internet-based interpersonal communications.

The act of sending spam, or "spamming," is also a form of theft-of-service.  The cost of internet service is at least loosely-based on consumption, and junk eMail consumes a lot of resources.
Recommended reading


One common element is always present with spam -- a lack of consent by the recipient.  Spammers regularly make vague claims to cover up this fact (e.g., "you opted in through one of our affiliates," "your address is in an opt-in list that we purchased," "you signed up a long time ago," etc.), but victims of spam almost always know it's just another lie.

Many spammers believe that laws surrounding "freedom of expression" validate their spamming activities, but there are a number of problems with this argument [this is not legal advice; consult a lawyer before making any assumptions about how the law works]:

  1. local laws usually can't be applied in other countries where they may be different or nonexistent
  2. internet servers are typically located on private property where the owners/operators have the right to decide who may access it, and for what purpose

Consent is paramount because there is always a cost associated with internet use, thus paying for junk eMail is unfair to recipients.  As more internet resources are used, ISPs must pay more, and in order to stay in business they pass these costs on to their customers through higher service fees.

With a total disregard for everyone's natural right to consent, spammers routinely collect recipient addresses from a wide variety of sources including web sites, forums and usenet newsgroups, other eMail lists, SpyWare or Virus infected computer systems, etc., for automatic inclusion in their list(s).  Since spammers also sell their lists to other spammers, it's difficult to determine the ultimate source of the chain of abuse.


Several solutions aimed at eliminating spam have been developed over the years that certainly do make a difference for internet users, as well as systems administrators who are responsible for supporting and maintaining eMail systems.  Unfortunately, instead of realising that their spam isn't wanted, spammers send from different locations to avoid blocks, alter spelling to circumvent filters, etc.

Some of these solutions are more effective than others, but this effectiveness typically varies from one internet user to the next, regardless of whether they use the same ISP.  The reasons for these variations aren't known for certain, but the main possibility is that spammers use a range of techniques to obtain eMail lists of their victims (e.g., automated copying from web sites and newsgroups, buying lists from other spammers, gaining unauthorized access to private databases, etc.).

Viewpoints range with regards to what criteria qualifies a message as spam, in many cases requiring examination of the contents of each message.  Aside from blocking communications from blacklisted IP addresses, many systems also use a scoring system based on predefined sets of criteria.  Each set can be assigned a different score value (or weight), and when the sum of these scores exceeds a configurable threshold the message is either blocked or flagged as spam.  Some of these criteria include:

  • sender's IP address is blacklisted
  • sender's domain or eMail address fails validity checks
  • too many recipients were listed
  • certain words or phrases are present (e.g., foul language, MLM terminology, etc.)
  • a specific eMail program was used (e.g., mass mailing spamware)
  • a virus was detected
  • an invalid time zone was specified in the time stamp
  • one or more required SMTP headers are missing
  • one or more SMTP headers were structured incorrectly


In 1978 the first known junk eMail was sent by a marketing manager named Gary Thuerk at DEC (Digital Equipment Corp.) when the internet was still in its infancy, and known as the ArpaNet (used mainly by researchers and the military).  The message included a very long list of recipients, and some eMail software crashed or spilled the list of recipients over into the message body as a result.  In addition to receiving complaints from his recipients, a military agency also prohibited Gary from ever doing this again.

The consensus is that the source of the term "spam" was directly influenced by a hilarious Monty Python song that begins with the lyrics "Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam, ..."  This song, and its style of presentation, likely reminded people of the constant deluge of junk eMail that spammers are still relentlessly foisting on internet users, often with seemingly endless repetition.

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