Nonsense Words in Spam

Category: Spam

What's the story behind all the weird, nonsensical words that appear in the text of spam emails? Examples: his acquirements entitled him to the honour. He possessed a large... she was not allowed to proceed. The Admiral's kind urgency... turned him on shore at the very moment, and he has been living with us

Spam vs. Anti-spam... the war escalates. This is an attempt by spammers to defeat the content filters that the new generation of spam blockers are using. Spam filters based on Bayesian algorithms try to determine the context of words that may be possible spam triggers.

If an email contains little more than "Enlarge your body parts! Click Here to Buy!!!" then it's pretty easy for a program to score those words and zap the message as spam. But if that text is buried in an avalanche of meaningless text that has nothing to do with anything, the job of determining whether or not a message is good or bad becomes much harder.

 
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This article was posted by on 23 Aug 2005


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Most recent comments on "Nonsense Words in Spam"

Posted by:

Peter Theobald
26 Aug 2005

Actually, it goes a bit deeper than that. Bayesian filters, which is one layer of defence in an anti-spam system, attempts to classify mails as "good" or "spam" based on content. It studies samples of mail received in your inbox and builds a database of words found in spam mail ("viagra, penis, enlarge etc") and words found in good mail (normal words). Thereafter, it analyses mails and if it finds words in it that are prevalent in spam, it marks it as spam - but on the other hand, if it finds words in the mail that are normally found in good mail, it marks it as good.

By including random normal words in their spam - that make no sense in the context of the spam, but are perfectly good words otherwise, the spammers are trying to fool the bayesian filter into classifying these words as spam. once this happens, legitimate mail with these words will get classified as spam, leading you to doubt the accuracy of the spam filter, and eventually (they hope) get you to disable it as it becomes progressively useless.. That's the theory at least. -- Peter Theobald, Mumbai, India


Posted by:

Pierre Arpin
07 Sep 2006

I use Mailwasher as spam fighter and I use strict rules to eliminate junk mail. (1) Every e-mail addresses with numbers except those coming from my friends. (2) Every e-mail adresses coming from exotic countries (.jp , .hk, .cn and so on) (3) Blank subject or e-mail adresses (4) Funny or non standard characters in subject. (5) Spanish given names for the author. (6) If the subject ends with ? or !

These are my main rules and they are very effective. 99% of spam is flushed.


Posted by:

null
08 Sep 2006

I get lots of spam that is ONLY nonsense. There doesn't seem to be any point at all. Outlook does a good job of putting in my junk email folder, but it's hard to tell why it's being sent in the first place.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The spammers may be sending to randomly generated addresses (for example, first initial + last name) and hoping that you will reply and confirm that yours is a valid address. Or they may collect the "bounce" messages and weed out the undeliverables, so they can mail again to the ones that don't bounce.


Posted by:

Keith Sheasley
12 Sep 2006

As I understand it, there's an additional reason for the nonsense at the beginning of SPAM emails. ISPs scan for users pumping out thousands of IDENTICAL emails and shut them down as spammers. These guys have come up with a work-around, however. Special software inserts random text at the beginning of each email, effectively making each piece of mail different. Those who receive the mail and read it in HTML form never see the junk text. But those who scan it first in text mode, using something like MailWasher, see ONLY the junk text.


Posted by:

Karen Tricomi
20 Dec 2006

Ok, so they're trying to get around the Baysian filters, but I'm still not clear what they're trying to accomplish. There's nothing in the body of the e-mail that I can decipher as a pitch for a product of any kind. I've only received two of these so far, and one had a .gif attachment. Of COURSE I didn't open it - that would have just been dumb! The best explanation I've heard so far is the editor's note in this post - that they are trying to get you to reply (probably to say "What the...??") to confirm another e-mail address to add to their list. Thanks for that insight. They are kind of poetic in a weird, techno-geek kind of way, tho...


Posted by:

Neil
14 Jan 2007

Peter Theobald's response, along with Keith Sheasley's, combine to make it all seem crystal clear to me. I had wondered this for such a long time - why bother sending out gibberish email, with no apparent purpose?!

Of course, by getting us to mark these messages as spam we are actually confusing our spam filters into blocking genuine words, which will ultimately render them useless.

Combine this with an occasional sales pitch in HTML or image form, and many of us (particularly the spam-savvy ones, who disable HTML and images, for example) will only see the gibberish, while others (mostly the new internet users and those using web-mail clients) will see the sales message.

I have also heard a theory (judge for yourself) that terrorists are using spam as a means of broadcasting information - that those 'in the know' are able to decode these messages.

Either way, thanks guys for sharing your understanding!


Posted by:

Carlos Legarda
14 Feb 2007

There are also companies who collect valid email addresses, most likely by sending to everyone and weeding out those that bounced back, and sell those email addresses to actual spammers. It's lucrative not only because people buy the products that spammers are selling but also because companies buy their lists of valid email addresses for their e-mail blast advertisements.


Posted by:

Malcolm
16 May 2007

Has anybody thought of a possible psychological angle? You see this spam mail that doesnt make sense, and yes, of course you wonder why all the gibberish. But subconsciously the web user is being duped into believing he can identify spam email from legitimate. So, he sees an email full of nonsense, thinks "Oh this must be spam, arnt i clever". Its a dangerous thing to rest upon ones laurels. Then one day an email comes in from what looks like his bank. Of course he "knows" what real spam is now - this is not spam, its from his bank - OR IS IT!!!?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't get your point. The bank isn't going to send gibberish... Would anyone assume that EVERYTHING that's not total nonsense is completely legit?


Posted by:

Val
18 May 2007

I too, have long wondered why the apparent senseless spam email containing randomly composed words. With the explainations that Peter and Keith provide, it now actually does make sense. It is not designed to ellicit any response, but solely to attempt rendering the spam filters useless. Quite brilliant actully. We just need to improve the cat in this cat and mouse game. With MailWasher, handling spam is a breeze - see it and bounce/delete them right from the server without ever downloading them.


Posted by:

J. Miller
18 May 2007

I use Spamfighter (Spamfighter.com). It's FREE and very effective. Good People!


Posted by:

Ztak
08 Jun 2009

I tried Spamfighter, and it was as bad as all of ther others. The only thing I have found very effective and accurate is the SPAM blocker that I get from Cox.net. This is supposed to be powered by McAfee. When I turned off the Cox spamfilter and turned on McAfee's spam filter, it was really not too great.


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