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A Brief History of Email Communication

In the early days of computing, email was a novel concept—a digital version of traditional mail. Let’s explore its journey from ARPANET to the webmail services we use today.


Early Beginnings and the ‘@’ Symbol

In the 1960s, computer scientists tinkered with time-sharing systems, and within this digital landscape, the seeds of email were sown. MIT’s Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) implemented an early mail system in 1965, allowing users to exchange messages within the same system. But it was ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, that truly revolutionized communication.
In 1971, the now-iconic ‘@’ symbol made its debut. Ray Tomlinson, an engineer working on ARPANET, decided to use it to separate the user’s name from the host computer’s address. Thus, the familiar email address format was born: username@hostname.

Proprietary Systems and Standardization

As email gained popularity, various proprietary systems emerged:

  • IBM Profs, used within IBM offices, allowed employees to send electronic memos.
  • CompuServe, a major online service provider, offered intraoffice messaging.
  • Xerox Star, a pioneering graphical workstation, included an email system.

In 1983, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) became the standard for email communication. LAN-based email systems proliferated, connecting users within organisations.

Webmail and Public Adoption

The mid-1990s marked a turning point. Webmail services like Hotmail and Yahoo Mail allowed users to access their emails via web browsers. Suddenly, email wasn’t confined to corporate networks—it was accessible to everyone. And when smartphones entered the scene, email became truly ubiquitous.


The Menace of Spam

Overwhelmed Inboxes

Imagine opening your mailbox and finding it crammed with junk mail. That’s the digital reality for many of us. Spam, those unsolicited emails promising everything from miracle weight loss to Nigerian fortunes, inundates our inboxes. Legitimate messages get lost in the chaos.

Reduced Trust

Phishing scams are the dark side of email. Cybercriminals impersonate trusted entities—banks, tech companies, even your grandma—to trick you into revealing sensitive information. Remember those emails claiming you’ve won the lottery or need to update your account details urgently? Yep, classic phishing.

Resource Drain

Spam isn’t just annoying; it’s resource-intensive. Servers strain under the weight of processing and storing junk emails. Email providers invest in robust filtering systems to combat this digital deluge.

Economic Costs

Businesses pay a hefty price. Anti-spam solutions, lost productivity, and IT resources dedicated to spam management all add up. Imagine if your company’s IT team spent less time battling spam and more time innovating!

Privacy Concerns

Ever notice those tiny, invisible images embedded in emails? They’re tracking pixels, silently reporting back to spammers. Plus, phishing emails often lead to data breaches, compromising your privacy.


The Rise of Phishing

Early Days and the Term “Phishing”

Around 1995, cyber tricksters began their exploits. The term “phishing” was officially recorded in the AOHell Usenet newsgroup. AOL, a popular internet service provider, unwittingly hosted these early phishers.

AOL Origins and Common Techniques

Phishers posed as AOL employees, sending messages that seemed legit. “Verify your account” or “confirm billing information,” they’d say. Unsuspecting users fell for it. The random credit card number scheme evolved into more sophisticated social engineering tactics.

Evolution and Ongoing Threats

Phishing techniques have evolved beyond AOL. Today, they target various platforms—email, social media, and messaging apps. Cybercriminals exploit human trust and curiosity, adapting their tactics to stay one step ahead.


Staying Safe Online

Here are some tips to help you stay safe when browsing your emails and the wider web:

Be Skeptical

Question unexpected emails or messages.

Verify sender identities before clicking links.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA adds an extra layer of security.
Even if your password is compromised, MFA prevents unauthorized access.

Keep Software Updated

Regularly update your operating system, browsers, and security software.
Patches fix vulnerabilities exploited by cybercriminals.

Educate Yourself

Learn about common phishing tactics.
Be cautious when sharing personal information online.

Use Strong, Unique Passwords

Avoid using the same password across multiple platforms.