hash busting /’hæʃbʊstɪŋ/

Next time you receive a piece of spam from someone offering you drugs, sex, enhancement, or Nigerian dollars, take a look at the bottom to see if you have any hash buster text. This is a collection of random words that can range from the purely random to the curiously poetic. For example, take the following snippet from one I received just a few weeks back:

“Certainty idealistic attain procedural mount unscripted bodies friend threat then falsified claret timebrand certainty wraiths occurs species waste youthful demandeth massacre silences predicts readers integrated gather hung traffic millennia foolishly strives dogmatism noosphere rail goal equalized”

With a little help by some judicious punctuation, we can extract wonderful phrases that wouldn’t be out of place in a poety competition. “Mount unscripted bodies,” “Threat, then falsified claret,” “Silences predicts readers,” and “”Millenia foolishly strives.”

These words are generated by spamming software to confuse spam-detecting software. There’s a war going on between programs and we humans don’t even need to take part – we can just sit back and watch it happen!

The term hash buster comes from the way in which some spam detectors work. One form of detection os to use what are called hash filters – a way of counting letters and words and compatring them with previously received spam. By adding lots of strange words, the spammer hope to fool hash filters into saying “aha, you are NOT like the other 10 spam messages so you must be legitimate!” So the garbage words serve to “bust the hash filter.”

It’s fascinating to me that the words spam and hash both have food connotations and both are used to indicate e-mail excess! Spam comes from an old comedy sketch in the BBC series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It is NOT, as folk etymology has it, an acronym for “stupid, pointless, annoying messages” or any other such derivation.

Hash comes from the Old French, hacher, and as a verb it means to cut up into pieces (c.f. hatchet) and so as a noun it refers to something cut p into small bits – like a corned beef hash. The notion of cutting up or slashing is where the notion of calling the symbol “#” the hash mark. The lines are intersecting lines. In a hash filter, programmers use the actual hash sign as a character in coding to represent a wild character.

Hash character

Hash character

You can also take about a service hash, military markings to indicate years of service. Again, the common theme is the use of lines.

Service hash

Service hash

And hash is also slang for hashish, which has a completely different derivation. This word comes from the Arabic hashish, which means dry herb or the dry leaves of the hemp plant.




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