If your e-mail address begins “ajolie@” or “mphelps," your inbox is likely overflowing with messages sporting subject lines that read “Your Lady Will Become Crayzed” (sic) or “Urgent Request for Business Relationship from Lagos, Nigeria.” Believe it or not, the spam load has nothing to do with celebrity and everything to do with the first letter in your e-mail address.

University of Cambridge computer security researcher Richard Clayton presented a paper at the recent Fifth Conference on Email and Anti-Spam showing that e-mail addresses  beginning with the letters “A,” “M,” “S,” “R,” and “P” attracted about 40 percent junk mail, whereas addresses  that start with the letters “Q,” “Y,” and “Z” brought in only 20 percent or less. The paper entitled “Do Zebras Get More Spam than Aardvarks" analyzed more than 550 million e-mail messages sent over the U.K.'s Demon Internet service  during an eight-week period this year.

The reason for the disparity probably has to do with “dictionary” or “Rumpelstiltkin” attacks in which spammers guess addresses—and, of course, more names incorporated in these addresses begin with “A” for Angelina than “Z” for Zack.  Some anomalies require further probing, such as why addresses that begin with the letter “U” garnered a 50 percent junk influx? 

Clayton's advice (presented on Light Blue Touchpaper, Cambridge's computer lab blog): “Aardvarks should consider changing species—or asking their favorite email filter designer to think about how an unexpected empirical result can be leveraged into blocking more of their unwanted email.” In other words -- it’s better to be last (zebra) than first (aardvark), a fitting admonition to mark the 30th anniversary of the first Internet marketing e-mail, which plugged minicomputers not sex potions.