A spam message that contains passages from classic literature, but no discernible advertisement, phishing attempt, or malicious code.
Unsolicited excerpts of classic works by Daniel Defoe, Alexandre Dumas, J.R.R. Tolkien devoid of the usual viruses, ads for discount-priced Viagra and offers to grubstake a former Nigerian bureaucrat's effort to liberate that country's treasury of millions of dollars. Experts say the empty spam, which spiked in June at 40 per cent of all spam, most likely results from flawed links between servers originating the spam and the infected computers that dispatch it.
—"Economy sends signs of growing fatigue," The Toronto Star, August 7, 2006
But throughout last spring and summer, many e-mail users reported that their literary spam was arriving without any attachments or sales pitches; it was just text, harmless and sometimes fascinating. Bloggers and even the Jargon Watch column in Wired magazine, which termed the phenomenon "empty spam," seemed charmed by it.
—Melanie Toumani, "Literary Spam," The New York Times, December 10, 2006
Email in-boxes are under attack from some unlikely menaces: J.R.R. Tolkien, Daniel Defoe, Alexandre Dumas and other authors whose classic works are surfacing in a newly popular spam scam.
Sometimes known as "empty spam," the persistent strain of junk mail has been puzzling millions of consumers in recent weeks. These emails, unlike standard spam, contain no perceptible marketing offers, viruses or requests for personal information. They are just blocks of text, often lifted from classic literature. ...
Such spam has surfaced before. But the number of empty spam messages has almost doubled to 4% of all spam email in recent weeks, according to IronPort Systems, an email-security company that collects data from more than 100,000 Internet service providers and corporations. For a few days in June, it peaked at 40% of all spam.
—Jessica E. Vascellaro, "'Empty spam' Feasts on In-Boxes," The Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2006
The more general phenomenon of a spam message that contains a passage or two from a work of classic literature is known as literary spam. Here's the earliest citation (see also the New York Times cite, above):
Consumers have been a bit puzzled by the onslaught of unsolicited commercial e-mail quoting famous authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien of "The Lord Of The Rings" fame and Alexandre Dumas, who wrote "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Three Musketeers." The Wall Street Journal reports that one man said he has been getting spam advertisements for drugs with excerpts from "Robinson Crusoe." Such spam is not new, but in recent weeks it has nearly doubled, according to IronPort Systems, an e-mail security company. One theory for the increase is that spammers are looking for ways to bypass filters by confusing them. Spammers may even be looking for consumers to report the literary spam.
—"The lord of spam: Tolkien embedded in e-mail," Technology Daily, August 2, 2006