The History and Future of Phishing

Having a spam email show up in your inbox nowadays is most of the time a harmless annoyance and we don’t really pay attention to them nearly as much as we used to. But a few decades ago, spam emails had bigger ramifications, and sometimes, even today, spam emails can wreak havoc on our systems. 


Email started as MIT’s Compatible Time-Sharing System, which stored shared files on a central disk and users logged in from remote terminals to access these files in 1965. It would take another 12 years for the first standard email to be sent but only a year after that for the very first mass email was sent. It was sent to 397 users in 1978, and was so unpopular that no one would try again for over a decade. But in 1988, “spamming” was a prank played by player of multi-user dungeons (MUD) games. MUDers would flood their rival’s accounts with junk mail, preventing them from playing and crashing their systems. The second major attempt at mass marketing spam was in 1994 when 2 immigration lawyers sent a mass message advertising their services. But because email was not designed to be secure, spamming went from annoyance to major security threat. 


In the 1990’s the Warez Community used randomly generated credit card numbers to open AOL accounts. Using hacked accounts they could send more phishing messages to the victim’s contacts. AOL quickly introduced new security measures that stopped the use of generated credit card numbers, but Warez was a step ahead. They pretended to be AOL admins requesting logins from other users, and the spamming game grew from there. The ILOVEYOU virus was the first spam sending itself to other users, the Sirecam virus copied itself into existing files, making it harder to catch, the MiMail computer worm made it look like the emails it sent were from a trusted company, and many more viruses spread to thousands of machines dealing millions in damages.


Find out how to protect your email from phishing attacks and how to recognize phishing attacks before they can do any damage here.