If you weren’t already aware, October is “National Cyber Security Awareness Month,” and this awareness could not have come soon enough, in my opinion. During the past week, a study came out that reported at 355% increase in social media spam during the first half of 2013. Although these results weren’t surprising to me, they got me thinking; what is spam, where did it originate, and how can we protect ourselves against it?
Origin of Spam
The term “spam” originates from a three minute sketch in the television show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. The sketch, televised in 1970, was based in a cafe in which every item on the menu included some sort of spam. After watching this video below, you will see why the word ‘spam’ became associated with unsolicited, repeated solicitation:
Although the Monty Python skit aired in the 70′s, it wasn’t until the 90′s that ‘spam’ got it’s current meaning. During the 1990′s, programmers learned how to script ads to be posted repeatedly in online message boards. These unsolicited and repeated messages showed up every where; message boards turned to emails turned to Facebook picture tags, and now spam can be even found in our Twitter Direct Message’s.
Although this phishing scam is pretty well-known among Facebook users, something that isn’t as well-known, is the preventative measures that Facebook is taking to block spam from news feeds. “Facebook blocks 220 million posts and messages per day that contain spam links.”
Have you ever noticed the second message inbox on your Facebook account? This ‘other’ inbox is where Facebook stores inbox messages from those that you are not friends with, or messages that it identifies as spam.
Twitter is also taking preventative measures against spam, because they realize the impact it is having on users, “these messages mar consumer trust of social media, as well as brands that advertise on these sites.” Why would a company choose to advertise if they know that part of the audience they’re paying to reach are fake accounts?
With their recent IPO filing, Twitter took a greater stand against these accounts in order to retain advertisers, their main source of revenue. Twitter stated that they “made an improvement in our spam detection capabilities in the second quarter of 2013 and suspended a large number of accounts. [And] spam accounts that we have identified are not included in the active user numbers presented.” Through these efforts, fake accounts are said to be down to under five-percent of all accounts, a significant drop from previous estimates of twenty-percent.
With all of these preventative measures being used by Facebook and Twitter, how has spam still increased 355% in 2013? Although technological innovations will always be improving to protect against spammers, I believe that these innovations will constantly be challenged by the increased knowledge and information of hackers. I predict that in the next few years, a lot of money will be made off of spam protection software.
How can you protect yourself against SPAM in the short-term?
Although there is software that you can currently buy to help block spam, most of my research indicated that the best way to avoid spam is to be a defensive social media user.
- Check the security of the site before posting sensitive information
- Use passwords that aren’t common sense
- Avoid clicking on unknown links or emails
Spam is unavoidable, but if you’re smart about it, it shouldn’t take over your feeds.
Oh, and in case you were wondering — no — the people at Hormel did not originally like their association with online spam, though they have grown to embrace it. For the 2007 musical, SPAMalot, Hormel created a special tin of SPAM for the show, and currently have a SPAMalot exhibit in their museum.