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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
Spam celebrates silver jubilee
Birthday candles, BBC
Will anyone be lighting a candle on spam's birthday?

One of the most annoying aspects of the internet, spam, is 25 years old this weekend.

Net historians have trawled records and found that the first junk e-mail message hawking a company or its wares was sent back in 1978.

Coincidentally, the first commercial spam sent to Usenet discussion groups was sent a little over 10 years ago.

Now spam is thought to account for up to 40% of all e-mail messages sent across the net and many industry groups, companies and technologists are uniting to fight the flood.

Hawking history

Research by net alumni Brad Templeton has found that the first spam message was sent back in the days when the internet was known as Arpanet.

By 1978 Arpanet had been operating for about nine years and was letting lots of people at universities and government bodies swap e-mail.

On 3 May a marketing executive at Digital Equipment Corporation, a leading maker of minicomputers, decided to send all West Coast Arpanet users a message about an open day that would show off its new range of machines.

Spam celebrates its 25th birthday this weekend, BBC
A Monty Python sketch led to junk mail being called spam

The message generated huge controversy within the Arpanet community, partly because it was so poorly written and because it clearly broke the nascent network's acceptable use policy.

As a research aid, e-mail messages on Arpanet were supposed to be non-commercial.

This messages pre-dated the use of the term "spam" which has subsequently become applied to junk mail thanks to a Monty Python sketch in which customers of a restaurant are offered spam with everything.

Mr Templeton has also found the first use of the term "spam" to describe a junk e-mail message.

On 31 March 1993 Usenet administrator Richard Depew inadvertently posted the same message 200 times to a discussion group.

Adopting a term previously used in online text games, outraged Usenet users branded the excessive message posting "spam".

Another milestone in the history of spam took place in April 1994 when Arizona law firm Canter and Siegel posted a message about green card lottery services to hundreds of Usenet discussion groups.

From there spam has grown and grown and now, according to figures from spam stopper Brightmail, accounts for 40% of all e-mail traffic. In 2001, spam was only 8% of all e-mail traffic.

Not only does spam annoy people, most of the offers made in the messages are bogus.

A study for the US Federal Trade Commission found that almost 66% of the 1,000 junk mail messages scrutinised were false in some way.

The report lends credence to speculation that spammers send the messages only to entice people to respond so they can draw up a huge list of live e-mail addresses that they can then sell on to others.

Virginia boosts anti-spam laws
30 Apr 03  |  Americas
Spammers and virus writers unite
30 Apr 03  |  Technology
Net giants take on spam
28 Apr 03  |  Technology
Where spam comes from
24 Apr 03  |  Technology
Spam to be canned?
24 Mar 03  |  UK
Computer pioneer aids spam fight
08 Jan 03  |  Technology

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