Spam You! Series: Statistics and Background of Electronic Spam

By Catherine Potts | Nov 3, 2009
More Articles by Catherine

さてどれから食べようか...Image via Wikipedia

Ew. Spam. It’s basically the compilation of what’s left over from the “good” parts. By definition Spam is unwanted. Though, there are those who eat it up and those who make money creating it.

Welcome to my series of blog posts that will address the omnipresent spam. There are a lot of layers to this topic so we’ll start on the basic level and get more involved as we progress.

What is spam?

…the abuse of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media, digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately. While the most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs,wiki spam, online classified ads spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, junk fax transmissions, social networking spam, and file sharing network spam. (Wikipedia)

A great example of things unwanted are the thousands of useless emails I get trying to sell me something I don’t want. These emails are unsolicited (mostly-I mean, I do have to put my name in on sites but that doesn’t mean its open season on my Outlook!)

Spamming obviously works to a certain degree or else the cheaters would never use it. And they say cheaters never prosper…

Barrier of entry

What the heck is “barrier to entry?” Barrier of entry is essentially the obstacle (or “hindrance while trying to gain entrance”) getting in the way of the spammers making money (e.g. your email spam filter). Spammers are constantly chugging away at any work-around. That’s why they seem to get in. They literally have nothing better to do. Just ask my fatigued spam filter. Have I taken advantage of these sweet offers they send me? No. So I’m not sure who is. Whoever they are; good luck.

According to Wikipedia, electronic spam is classified as a “low barrier of entry.” Electronic spam has a low entrance and low exit barrier. Such barriers have many members involved with a low profit whereas high barriers have fewer involved and higher profits.

A business segment’s relative attractiveness varies with the height of its entry and exit barriers. The most attractive business segments have high entry barriers and low exit barriers. High entry barriers make it difficult for new firms to enter the segment and low exit barriers make it extremely easy for firms to leave a segment. If both the entry and exit barriers are high, the potential for profits is very high, but in this case, firms face more risk because it’s more difficult to exit the segment. (

As we all know, there is very little that can be done to catch spammers. The cost for such attacks is far less than the cost to prevent them.

Oh Geez, Give Me the Damage

Up-to-date stats for spam quickly become obsolete. So here are some I could scare up to help draw the picture of what we’re dealing with. Spam, according to Spam Laws, accounts for almost 45% of all emails sent globally per day. That’s 14.5 billion emails. Other research companies claim higher numbers (75%). Email spam accounts for 36% with adult-related subject lines being 31.7%. Actual scams are 2.5% of all spam with attempts at identity theft being 73% of the attempts.

Not surprisingly, Spam Laws also states that because of the deluge, users have lost trust in the safety of electronic communication. Additionally, a Radicati Research Group Inc. study on the topic shows that spam costs companies $20.5 billion per year in lost productivity and prevention. The prediction for increase, if the growth of spam maintains its current speed, is estimated at $257 billion, per year according to the Spam Laws article.

As of September 14th, 2008, there were 36 states that had spam laws in effect. (National Conference of State Legislatures). Meant to help regulate fraudulent or misleading electronic communication. Not every state has the same laws so check what your state employs.

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003:

…expressly regulates the use of electronic mail to send commercial messages, except to the extent that any such statute, regulation, or rule prohibits falsity or deception in any portion of a commercial electronic mail message or information attached thereto.

Each one of us, who touches an electronic source of information that someone else has access to has encountered spam. Such spam, for those who have never touched a computer is akin to the junk email that shows up in the mailbox, unsolicited but with, let’s say, a fist. I say “unsolicited” because you probably didn’t mean to get yourself on some stupid mailing list when you signed up for that thing, that one time. Now that you’ve done that, it’s pretty much over.

Have you ever gotten email spam from yourself? I have. I had to block me. Truly annoying.

What’s it compared to in the physical world? My front door specifically has a sign on it that says “no soliciting.” Let me tell you that I’ve watched countless people not even care about that little sign and still stuff their litter in my screen door. That’s spam. I can’t get them to stop. I’ve even confronted and pointed out the sign. I’ve emailed the company.My property apparently has a low barrier. I really need to work on that… Would a pit bull or some type of junkyard dog be considered a high barrier for exit? Those would be higher stakes, now wouldn’t they?

OK, so it’s not exactly like that in the physical world. At least the crap left on your front door and mailbox aren’t really hurting anyone. That’s the message here I guess. Spam causes damage. We’ve all dealt with it but do we really know where and what it comes from?

Stay tuned for more…

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