What is Spam? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Spam? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Spam?

Spam is a nuisance that fills our inboxes and clutters our digital lives. Where does it come from, and how can you protect yourself from its malicious effects? Brace yourself for a journey that will unravel the mysteries of spam, its different types, and the tools and strategies to combat this digital menace.


  • Spam refers to unsolicited, often irrelevant messages sent over the internet, typically to large numbers of users for advertising or phishing.

  • It can clutter inboxes, potentially hide legitimate emails, and may contain malware or phishing links.

  • Effective spam control includes using spam filters, being careful when sharing emails, and avoiding opening suspicious emails or clicking on unknown links.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Understanding Spam: Definition and Origin

Spam is essentially any mass communication that you didn’t ask for. It can be an annoying email, an unsolicited phone call, or even a pesky message on Facebook Messenger. The term “spam” was coined by Joel Furr, a user of a newsgroup, when the Automated Retroactive Minimal Moderation (ARMM) program on Usenet sent 200 copies of a message to news.admin.policy. This term has become synonymous with unwanted and unsolicited messages, whether they are sent via email, text, or social media.

Spam is a threat because spammers are constantly changing their tactics and messages to try and fool people. Companies may sell their customers’ contact information to advertisers and other third parties, leading to a barrage of unsolicited messages in our inboxes. It’s important to recognize spam and take steps to block it, as it can lead to more serious issues such as malware infections and phishing scams.

The Evolution of Spam

Spam has certainly evolved since its early days as simple email messages. The history of spam dates back to 1937 when Hormel Foods introduced Spam, a canned meat product made of ground pork and ham. It was created as a way to make the not-so-profitable pork shoulder more appealing, but little did Hormel know that their product’s name would one day be associated with unwanted messages.

Nowadays, spam can arrive in the form of emails, SMS, and even social media messages. Spammers use several sources to gather email addresses. These include customer lists, address books, contact lists, social media, websites, and chatrooms. Apps can be a potential threat to the user’s security. They can even secretly access details of the user’s contact list on any Android device.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, so do the tactics and techniques used by spammers to infiltrate our inboxes and devices.

Recognizing Different Types of Spam

There are several types of spam to watch out for, including marketing spam, malware, phishing, and other malicious messages. Recognizing these different types of spam can help you stay vigilant and protect yourself from the potential threats they pose.

In the following subsections, we’ll dive deeper into each type of spam and provide insights on how to identify and combat them.

Marketing Spam

Marketing spam is any kind of promotional message sent in bulk without having been requested by the recipient. This type of spam usually comes in the form of promotional emails and ads. While marketing spam may not be as malicious as malware or phishing scams, it can still have a detrimental effect on businesses and individuals alike.

The consequences of marketing spam can range from reduced productivity to the loss of trust between customers and businesses. To keep marketing spam at bay, adopt email management techniques like filtering and blocking, as well as using cybersecurity tools and practicing safe browsing habits.

Malware and Phishing Scams

Malware and phishing scams are more sinister types of spam that often have serious consequences. Malware is spam that includes malicious software, like ransomware, trojans, and spyware. Phishing is a type of spam message that tries to get you to give away sensitive information or download malware. These scams often use current topics in the news, like promising remote jobs that pay in Bitcoin or offering financial relief for small businesses, to get people’s attention.

To protect yourself from malware and phishing scams, it’s crucial to be cautious when opening emails, clicking links, or downloading attachments from unknown sources. If you receive a message claiming to be from tech support, verify the contact information on the company’s official website before taking any action. Use anti-spam gateway tools to prevent spam and watch out for advance-fee scams that promise money in exchange for a cash advance.

Social Media Spam

Social media spam is any kind of unwanted or unsolicited content that gets posted on social media platforms, such as fake accounts, automated messages, or posts that are misleading or irrelevant. This type of spam can be detrimental to a brand’s reputation and drown out genuine content and engagement. Examples of social media spam include promotional or sales-related messages, fake profiles, and misleading posts.

Link spam is another form of spam that involves posting irrelevant links in blog comments or forum posts in order to drive traffic to a page. To protect yourself from social media spam, it’s important to be cautious when connecting with new contacts, engaging with content, and clicking on links in posts and comments.

The Impact of Spam

Spam can have severe negative impacts on individuals, businesses, and overall internet usage. For individuals, spam can reduce productivity, cause irritation and discontent, clog up email inboxes, spread malware, and lead to phishing scams. The loss of important emails is another consequence of spam, as they can get buried in the sea of unwanted messages.

Businesses also suffer from the effects of spam, as it can slow down productivity, cause annoyance and frustration, fill up email inboxes, spread malicious software, and lead to phishing scams. All these issues contribute to the downsides of spam on internet usage, which can make browsing and communicating online a less enjoyable experience.

How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Spam

To identify spam, look at the sender’s email address, watch out for typos, strange phrasing, and any unfamiliar links. Be cautious of emails with generic greetings, grammar blunders, misspelled words, and any urgent requests.

To protect yourself from potential threats, follow the tips and best practices outlined in the following subsections.

Email Management Techniques

Managing spam in your email can be done through filtering, reporting, and blocking unwanted senders. Filtering emails can help in identifying and getting rid of pesky spam emails before they can fill up your inbox. Reporting emails can give your email provider a heads up about potential spam emails, so they can take steps to stop them from hitting other people’s inboxes.

Blocking unwanted senders is another effective way to manage spam in your email. Doing so will help keep those emails from cluttering up your inbox and potentially causing you to miss important messages.

By combining these email management techniques, you can effectively reduce the amount of spam you receive and protect your inbox from potential threats.

Cybersecurity Tools

Cybersecurity tools like anti-spam software and two-factor authentication can help protect against spam. Anti-spam software can detect and block malware that may be sent through spam, while two-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security by requiring users to verify their identity with two different forms of identification before they can access their account.

Other authentication methods, such as secret questions or verification codes sent to your phone via text message, can also help protect your accounts from spam and malicious attacks.

By using cybersecurity tools and practicing safe browsing habits, you can effectively reduce the risks associated with spam and keep your digital life secure.

Safe Browsing Habits

Practicing safe browsing habits is essential for protecting yourself from spam and its potential threats. To stay safe online, keep your systems and software up-to-date, avoid visiting suspicious websites, use an ad blocker, clear cookies regularly, use a VPN, and be careful when sending and receiving emails. Staying on top of updates can help keep your systems and software secure from the most recent security risks and vulnerabilities.

Questionable websites, which contain malicious content like malware, phishing scams, or other malicious activities, should be avoided at all costs. Using an ad blocker, deleting cookies, and connecting to a VPN can further enhance your online security by protecting you from malicious ads, safeguarding your privacy, and preventing your data from being intercepted.

Reporting and Combating Spam

Reporting spam is crucial in identifying malicious actors and keeping other users safe from the same spam. Internet service providers and email services use the information they get about spam to make their spam filters better at detecting malicious messages. If you encounter a suspicious message, try using the unsubscribe option for marketing spam or use the links provided by the US Department of Justice or the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK. Another option is to use spam.org’s reporting tool.

By reporting spam, you’re not only helping yourself, but also contributing to the ongoing battle against spam. Your efforts can help make the internet a safer place for everyone and ensure that our inboxes remain free from unwanted messages and threats.

Legal Regulations and Industry Measures

Several legal regulations and industry measures have been put in place to tackle the problem of spam. The CAN-SPAM. Act sets rules for commercial emails, establishes requirements for commercial messages, and gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them. Nearly 40 states have also passed laws to help curb spam.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is another set of rules that limit what companies can do with their customers’ personal data. As a result, many companies have moved away from using third-party data processing and are now keeping customer data in-house, which has helped to reduce spam and give customers more privacy.


Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored the origins of spam, its different types, and the impact it has on our digital lives. We’ve also discussed the importance of recognizing and reporting spam, as well as the various tools and techniques available to protect ourselves from its potential threats.

As we continue to navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape, it’s crucial to remain vigilant against spam and its associated risks. By implementing safe browsing habits, utilizing cybersecurity tools, and staying informed about legal regulations and industry measures, we can minimize the impact of spam in our lives and contribute to a safer, more enjoyable online experience for all.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is spam and why is it bad?

Spam is a type of electronic communication that is unwanted and unsolicited. It is usually sent out in bulk and can take the form of emails, text messages, phone calls, or social media posts.

Spam is bad because it can be used to scam people out of money, spread malware, or simply clog up people’s inboxes with useless messages.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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