Spammers send almost 300 billion messages a day combined, mostly in English. Thatâ€™s more than 90 percent of the worldâ€™s e-mail traffic. It costs billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, annoys hundreds of millions of people, and seriously harms some of those who fall into the trap.
It also means that the vast majority of the worldâ€™s e-mail is a babbling, eye-crossing, head-scratching mess of near-random vowels, consonants, exclamation marks, happy faces, misplaced commas and silly synonyms.
Are all spammers in serious need of grammar lessons? Did their parents not tell them about the spell check function? Or is it something sneakier?
Bitdefender writer Bianca Dima decided to find out. She spent most of the week talking to Bitdefender spam fighters. And reading spam messages. She read so much spam, in fact, that her story drove our spell checker mad and she lost her keyboard privileges until she re-reads the collected works of Shakespeare.Â
Hereâ€™s what she found:
The spam that has invaded our day-to-day life is inhuman â€“ literally. That is, itâ€™s computer-generated. Computers can be silly writers.
To evade spam filters, spam is usually based on templates that change words automatically to random synonyms. This is meant to make the message look unique. A single template may spread in 100 â€œuniqueâ€ messages by replacing letters with lookalike numerals or characters (â€œ1nterest r@teâ€) or by adding letters in the middle of the word (â€œSome words about hea vx lth!â€).
Donâ€™t think anti-spam software specialists didnâ€™t see that coming though. Software engineers have designed tools that screen text for words trying to pass filters. The complex dictionary checking looks for rude words and isn’t fooled easily by various spam tricks, such as the replacement of letters. Another anti-spam solution may use regular expressions to search and manipulate text based on patterns. With the matching, spam messages can be identified. Still, some weird synonyms may beat detection – and common sense.
Security specialists say most â€œcolorfulâ€ messages fall into the dating category, which represents 8% of total spam. Besides the old detected spam, new messages try to push their luck and enter the market. Research turns up four to five major new spam campaigns a day, with thousands of variable messages spreading like bad-tasting mushrooms into the wild.
â€œHello my dearâ€
Dating spam is the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of grammar mistakes, many made on purpose, according to security engineers.
Letâ€™s take for instance the old Russian-bride scam spam. Whatâ€™s more authentic than a Russian woman excusing herself for â€œbad Englishâ€? â€œHello my dear – I’ve had a web camera with good quality – sign up on my page – and I’ll do what you want for you, long time not seen you in a web camera. Why not send me letters? I am very sad one in Russia, write to me necessarily, it is waiting for your Stella.â€
The structure of this popular spam is simple: a three to five line html message (not plain text) that includes tempting words like â€œpicturesâ€ or â€œwebcamâ€, and one URL (subdomain.domain.tld). Some of the Russian bride spam also includes a message asking money for the bride-to-beâ€™s transport.
The grammar lesson spammers all seemed to skip is the one on â€œThe Verb.â€ On purpose or not, many of the daily messages commit serious disagreement mistakes or donâ€™t figure out what preposition goes with which verb.
â€œI want to be with you again, write me or call, come with me to the page – there all my contact details,â€ reads one of the messages. Another proudly announced: â€œWe are open new online store!â€
â€œMy name is Klara Belova. Yes, and besides, I’m from another country. I am unmarried! Let’s?,â€ seductively asked another.
The verb usage of some of the available â€œbridesâ€ in the spam would seem to scare away any suitor but Tarzan.
â€œHow do you do. I’m Ksenia I attractive. Give write,â€ read one of the spam messages. â€œHey, lets associate this modern movement? You will surpriseâ€, and â€œI really want you like,â€ said others.
According to security experts, such common mistakes are either made intentionally to increase credibility, or are automatically generated. When you randomly choose a verb from a set of 10 synonyms, the right preposition is just a lucky guess.
Spammers need grammar lessons for the articles as well. â€œI have ideas for an marriageâ€, suggested one of the Russian â€œbridesâ€. â€œI am a optimistic and “right” women,â€ proudly stated another.
Nouns and pronouns are also a great source of stress for spammers:
â€œThis informations is available to you after a brief and NO COST registration,â€ one message read. â€œIf you are seeking their “second half”, then perhaps you are interested in viewing my profile and photos,â€ read another.
Not only dating spams have problems with English grammar. Banking messages that invade our inbox arenâ€™t as smart as they think they are:
â€œNote: In a case were you think you are not familiar with the bellow banking information as presented by your legal representative and agent, we advice you send to us now without any delay your detail in full containing your Banking information and other personal information so we dont transfer to wrong account,â€ read one of the banking spams. Other messages try to lure users into clicking on vicious links on behalf of legitimate e-mail services: â€œDear User, You Have reached the maximum number of login with your account. Clicks the button below to reactivate your accountâ€.
Other grammatically-challenged messages come as comments to blog posts and articles: â€œI am please to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. Thanks for your post.â€
For the online masochist, hereâ€™s a little readerâ€™s guide. At almost 300 billion spam messages a day, you need all the help you can get.
Made-up or misspelled words
Trying to pass filters, spammers misspell or invent words.
advise – â€œI’ll give some advise how could get it on for a day or two.â€
to concider â€“ â€œI concider myself to be a very positive person.â€
count â€“ â€œIf you are looking for a bride, then possibly you are interested in viewing my profile and count.â€
Bizarre or bombastic synonyms
Long live the English Dictionary of Synonyms! Automated templates use plenty of matching words to escape anti-spam software. Some work, even if they range from the antiquated to the unusual to the pompous and beyond. Â Here are some of the more common words that may seem a tad out of place or overused in spam.
conversationalist = skilled at conversation (â€œI am a very interesting conversationalist, and you will not be bored.â€)
to enkindle = to turn on (â€œHi, dear. I believe that a man reserves his true and deepest love not for the species of woman in whose company he finds himself electrified and enkindled, but for that one in whose company he may feel tenderly drowsy.â€)
to embody = to incarnate (â€œI’ll never forget because you are embodied in him all my secret desires! Waiting, write me!â€)
familiarization = viewing (â€œIf you are seeking for a wife, then perhaps you are interested in familiarization my info and photos.â€)
frugal = temperate
good = handsome (â€œHello my good – I had a dream and you were in itâ€)
incidentally = by coincidence (â€œIncidentally, I have a webcam and we can chat right nowâ€)
methodically = in a systematic order
mountainous = big
practically = in a practical mannerÂ (â€œHello, dear.Â I am a big thinker even though I work methodically and practically by taking my time to achieve what I set out to do.â€)
to procure = to give (â€œHi handsome – you were so good in bed with me – I want to again make love to you – no 1 man I had never done so well as you have done – I’ll procure very great pleasure – my body was looking at your pictures just on fire!â€)
resourceful = creative (â€œI am frugal, resourceful and hard working.â€)
solitariness = solitude
ph ql ysi mi cally = physically
L py ev mb itr rg a or Vi fry a ngk g yfv ra =Â Viagra
s whz ex vct ual = sexual
(â€œIf you can not do it ph ql ysi mi cally, use some ataraxics. For example L py ev mb itr rg a or Vi fry a ngk g yfv ra… In my s whz ex vct ual practice it helped me not once…â€)
s gxg ite =Â site (“Visit our s gxg site…”)
Enjoy reading! At 300 billion spam messages a day, you probably have a lot of catching up to do.
All product and company names mentioned herein are for identification purposes only and are the property of, and may be trademarks of, their respective owners.
This article is based on the technical information provided courtesy of Bitdefender AntiSpam Lab.