Spam Has Been a Source of Frustration for 150+ Years – New Email Cybersecurity Tools Can Help

Okay, we know email cybersecurity hasn’t been a thing for 150+ years, but spam has. How do we know? Because on May 30, 1864, a curious letter to the editor appeared in The Times of London.

Scanned image of the very first spam

It was the first spam message ever and its recipient was clearly outraged. These days, however, spam isn’t simply an irritation, it’s a liability that could compromise your business’s security.

In today’s article, get the facts on the history of spam (including why it’s called “spam”) and learn how you can prevent spam at your company.

Let’s get to it.

The (Rather Fascinating) History of Spam

We already mentioned that great story from The Times, but that referred to a telegram. Today’s spam relies on electronics.

The First Electronic Spam

The first true electronic spam was sent on May 3, 1978 by Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).

DEC was a leading computer company at the time and, to promote their latest equipment release, Thuerk decided to send an electronic announcement to all West Coast users on the internet precursor known as ARPANET.

As the story goes, he didn’t want to take the time to send individual announcements to all 600 West Coast users, so he sent one email to everyone. Like the telegram spam recipient in 1864, ARPANET users were outraged at the tactic.

Thuerk was reprimanded by the ARPANET administrators, and he never spammed again.

Crooked Lawyers Get into Spamming

16 years later, on April 13, 1994, the next notable spammers hit the scene: Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel. This husband and wife law firm in Arizona charged “exorbitant fees” for legal services for hopeful immigrants, and they started posting spam messages on Usenet (another pre-internet option that’s still around today) to gain clients.

Usenet users were also outraged at the spam messages, and Canter and Siegel’s messages were shut down.

Unfortunately, spam picked up in frequency shortly after the Canter and Siegel messages – and it hasn’t slowed down yet.

Yes, Spam Is Named After SPAM… Kind Of

The name “spam” refers to a Monty Python Flying Circus skit in which a hungry couple tries to order a SPAMless breakfast at a restaurant in which nearly every dish contains the canned meat product, SPAM. The SPAM-filled restaurant is also host to a group of Vikings who sing loudly about SPAM while the couple is trying to order.

The Vikings’ loud, annoying SPAM song was later likened to the loud, annoying advertising and irritating online behaviors of geek proto-trolls who would interrupt text communications in early group chat rooms by typing “SPAM” repeatedly (if effect, “singing” about SPAM). It then became a commonly used term for any unwanted online communications and now refers specifically to unsolicited commercial email (or “UCE,” as we say in the industry).

How Modern Technologies Fight Spam

Those Monty Python Vikings in the skit may have managed to drown out the sound of the restaurant around them, but today’s deluge of spam would probably drown out global communications if it weren’t controlled by modern antispam technologies.

Fortunately, these antispam technologies can block 99.99% of spam out there… but even with controls, there’s a lot of spam left. Cisco Talos threat intelligence counted a total of 416.78 billion daily spam emails sent on average in April 2019, which means that the mere .01% of spam that outsmarted the filters resulted in more than 41.6 million spam emails that reached inboxes each day.

That is a ridiculous amount of spam and, with phish-focused spam lookalikes, it’s also a severe threat to your email cybersecurity.

However, there’s no reason your business should have to deal with all that spam.

Choose Email Security with a Business Spam Blocker

To help keep you safe, Interplay offers SpamAssist, a cloud-based service with one of the highest rates of spam prevention in the industry. SpamAssist helps prevent phishing and malware attacks from lookalike spam and allows you and your staff to send and receive email from your domain, even if your email server becomes inaccessible or goes offline.

In addition, SpamAssist:

  • Requires no on-site hardware or additional software investment
  • Provides granular content controls, so you can decide what type of content gets in
  • Gives you the power to control which types of emails exit your system
  • Comes with comprehensive reporting and full support from Interplay

I guess what we’re actually saying here is that spam is a serious hassle and a potential email cybersecurity hazard, but that finally, after more than 150 years, your business may have just found the cure for spam.

…Now if only you could find the cure for SPAM. There’s something really weird about that pink, gelatinous stuff.


Reach out to the spam prevention experts at Interplay to learn about the many ways you can increase email cybersecurity at your company.