Continuing on from Andrei Zammit’s latest articles on how SPAM emails can easily entice users and get them entangled into an invisible spider-web, I will be providing you with some background information on the different kind of SPAM forms and into which categories they fall.

Originally, the idea of SPAM emails was not intentionally to annoy or frustrate end-users with bogus or unsolicited information but was merely a means to get a message passed on swiftly to designated recipients. Eventually as early as 1975, due to the rise in popularity in the use of emails, unwanted email messages started to be recognized as a problem. Nowadays, thanks to unmetered ultra-high speed and cheap Internet connections, many spammers take advantage of emails for advertising purposes, whilst others even send emails to distribute malicious and fraudulent content. Users who are not familiar with the many types of SPAM emails that have materialized up to this very day are finding it cumbersome to filter out and differentiate between their legitimate and SPAM emails. In this first part of the article, we will be discussing two categories which are “joe jobs” and “commercial and non-commercial advertising” type of spam.

Joe Jobs

The term “Joe Job” refers to a spamming technique involving forged e-mails that appear to be sent by one party, but have actually been forged by another. The aim of the spammer here is to harm the reputation of an innocent victim. As an example a spammer might send thousands of emails containing pornography to close friends, work mates, family members and even unknown recipients using a forged return address of the person that is targeted (let’s say that we have a victim with an email address “peter.borg@company.com“). Outraged at what they have received, these recipients would eventually flood poor Peter’s mailbox with complaints or take action against him whilst even giving a bad name to the company where Peter is employed. The name “Joe Job” was first used from a spam attack on Joe Doll,  a webmaster of Joe’s Cyberpost. One user’s “Joes.com” account was banned and removed due to advertising through SPAM. In retaliation, this user decided to forge a spam email to make it appear that it was being sent by Joe Doll. As a result, this manoeuvre resulted in the website being temporarily down as well as suffering massive denial of service attacks.

The figure below shows an email example that was used to attack the website “DarkProfits”:

 

Commercial and non-Commercial Advertising

Many companies view commercial advertising SPAM as a means and an asset to approach potential customers, mainly because email is such an easy and cheap route to get into contact with customers. It is good to know that such emails are never sent by the companies themselves but by spammers who would receive part of the commission obtained when selling products. Even if the spammers get a very low response rate, they would still be marginally profitable since, as we have already mentioned, sending emails does not involve any particular costs. We can see many types of commercial SPAM emails, the most popular are of the “Russian Spam” type that would involve selling fake Rolex watches, enhancement products, gambling websites and faulty merchandise. Other types include Adult services, Health, Stock and Financial, and various products and services.

Spam emails involving advertising may not necessarily be commercial and  can also be political (propaganda) and cultural. Even though such emails are not seen as bad or malicious, there is also a dark side to non-commercial advertising. Many criminals and fraudsters have managed to lure people to locations, where they have been kidnapped, held for ransom or even murdered. To give an example, there was recently a story in Malta where a group of young people applied to a job recruitment advert that offered a lot of money. Unfortunately things did not turn out as these people had originally thought it would, though luckily all applicants arrived back home safe and sound even though they risked their lives, finding themselves without money and having difficulty travelling back to Malta.

In the next and final part of this article we will be looking into some other forms of SPAM which, like the ones that we have discussed above, give us an insight as to what goes on in the mind of a spammer and the motives of sending different types of SPAM  to specific people.