The First Internet Spam Message

First Internet Spam Message

The First Internet Spam Message

Key Points

  • The first internet spam message was sent in 1978 to almost 400 people on ARPANET.
  • Spammers can make up to 2 million USD a year, but the penalty for spamming is high.
  • Common types of internet spam include email spoofing, phishing, financial reward hoaxes, ad spam, and malware messages.
  • To avoid internet spam, know what it looks like, report anything suspicious, install security software, and enable two-factor authentication.

Today, internet spam is an accepted part of our daily lives. We regularly receive all types of spam, from emails to robocalls, that are considered nothing but an annoying hindrance to our day. But have you ever asked yourself where and when did it all start?

What was the first internet spam message, and how was it sent? If so, you’re in the right place. This article will explore the first internet spam message, including who sent it and how. Additionally, we’ll review why we call it spam, the most common types of internet spam, and whether or not spam messages are effective.

Internet Spam Is Born

It may surprise you that we got the first internet spam message in May of 1978. This spam was in the form of an email sent to almost 400 people. However, the person who sent the message didn’t intend for the message to be spam. 

Gary Thurek sent close to 400 automated email messages to people using ARPANET, which was like the original internet. Thurek used his ARPANET contact list to send a marketing message asking them to come and check out the new DECSYSTEM-20, a state-of-the-art computer for its time.

Unfortunately, while ARPANET went kaput in 1989, spam messages live on. 

The Most Common Types of Internet Spam

Now that we know how spam started, let’s look at some of the most common types of spam you’ll encounter on the internet today. 

Email Spoofing and Phishing

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack often used to steal user data.

©Golden Dayz/Shutterstock.com

An example of email spoofing is when a scammer sends an email to someone with the intention of looking like it came from someone else. For example, they can pretend to be from a specific brand or company, such as FedEx. 

While the goal of spoofing internet spam is to impersonate someone else, email phishing aims to steal private information. Email phishing is a type of spam in which a scammer tries to get someone to reveal their identity or other personal data, like a credit card number. 

Financial Reward Hoaxes

If you’ve ever read an email from someone claiming to be someone from another country needing money, then you’ve seen this type of internet spam in the form of financial reward hoaxes.

For example, someone messages you explaining they have a big check to send you if only you would first send them a smaller amount in the form of a cashier’s check.

These hoaxes, meant to make you think you have an extensive payout coming your way, are just an elaborate way to scam you out of your hard-earned cash. 

Ad Spam

You probably know ad spam when you see it. An internet spam ad usually contains an unsolicited message about how you need a specific product or service.

Aside from being unsolicited, these messages usually boast some product that is generally a scam. For example, ad spam may advertise miracle weight loss pills. 

Malware Messages

A malware spam message is usually in the form of an email or an internet pop-up. The notice will usually inform you that there’s been a threat detected on your computer, and you should click a link to download the solution. 

Why Do We Call it Spam?

Thurek sent the first internet spam message in the late 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1993 that we had the term spam. Richard Depew coined the term to describe a bug in a software program. This bug sent 200 messages to his colleagues.

It’s been long-thought that Depew got the word from a Monty Python sketch. The sketch revolves around a restaurant serving every dish with a side of canned meat known as Spam. Hence, it’s something that’s repeated until we feel antagonized. 

Is Internet Spam Effective?

A lot of internet spam can look so obviously suspicious it’s easy to wonder if anyone makes any money spamming people. But, unfortunately, they can and do. 

Neterix.com says spammers can make 7,000 USD daily and around two million USD yearly. That number may be enough for some to want to quit their jobs and take up the spammer game. However, the penalty for spam is not worth it because you can be fined over 50,000 USD per email. 

So, while spammers may make some money, the risk is so high that most honest, hardworking folks don’t think it’s a career to pursue. Besides, do you really want to be responsible for scamming people out of their hard-earned money?

How to Avoid Internet Spam Messages

Avoiding online spam starts with knowing what it looks like and taking measures to stop it before it happens. Additionally, to lessen spam while using the internet, report anything suspicious you find. 

Know What Spam Looks Like

First Internet Spam Message
Spamming is economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists.


A lot of internet spam messages sound and look too good to be true. For example, scammers will offer you significant amounts of money if you send them a small amount now. Or, they’ll promise to provide you with free goods and services they don’t have or sell. But, if you know what to look for, you can lessen your risk of getting scammed. 

First, double-check the sender’s address. Does the email address look legitimate? If the sender is from a reputable company, their email address should match that. Finally, check to make sure everything is correct.

Second, be suspicious of all buttons and links. For example, don’t automatically click the link if you get a message from a company you do business with saying you need to update your payment information. Instead, log in to your account and double-check your payment information. 

Case in point. There is a Netflix scam that follows this scenario. Netflix customers get a text message saying their membership is on hold due to an issue with their billing information. It further says to avoid information, and they need to click a link embedded into the message. This message is a classic example of a suspicious link. 

To protect their information, people should log in to their Netflix account instead of clicking the link. Then, chances are, their payment information is just fine, especially because Netflix doesn’t send texts to their customers. Finally, never open or download an attachment you weren’t expecting from anyone you don’t know. 

Report Anything Suspicious

While most email hosts have a good automatic spam filter, we still get spam emails. So, when you do, try to send it to your spam folder before you open it because sometimes the sender can see if you’ve opened it, confirming that the email address is valid. 

Remember, you don’t necessarily want to click “unsubscribe,” which will also alert the sender that the email address is valid. They’ll only send you more junk mail. 

Install Security Software

Cybersecurity is an excellent way to stop internet spam before it can do horrible damage. If you do happen to click a suspicious link, security software can prevent issues from infecting your computer or network. 

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication keeps you safe by requiring two steps to log in. For example, you may want to set up two-factor authentication that requires someone to enter a password and a code sent to them via a text message. 

Internet Spam

While it’s interesting to learn about the first internet spam message and how the term “spam” came into being, getting spam is not a particular highlight of the day. However, by taking a few security measures, the amount of spam you get should lessen, making existing online much more fun. 

The First Internet Spam Message FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When was Internet spam invented?

In 1993, Richard Depew first used the word spam to describe repeating unwanted messages.

What happens if you accidentally open a spam message?

If you accidentally open a spam message, you’ll probably be okay. Just don’t click on any links or buttons. Clicking a phishing link can open your computer and network to cyber threats.

Can spammers tell if you open an email?

Spammers can tell if you’ve opened an email, clicked any links or buttons, or if any images embedded in the email were loaded.

Is it safe to delete spam messages?

Yes, you should permanently delete spam messages. If you can, report the message as spam before you delete it.

What was the first spam message?

The first spam message was a computer ad sent in 1978.

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