Thomas Bayes was born in 1702 in London, the son of a minister. After being educated privately, he was ordained a minister like his father and was assigned to a chapel in Tunbridge Wells, 35 miles outside of London. After Bayes’ death in 1761, his friend Richard Price discovered his theory of probability in his papers. The theory was published by the Royal Society in 1764.
In basic terms, Bayes’ Formula allows us to determine the probability of an event occurring based on the probabilities of two or more independent evidentiary events. Mathematically, the general formula is represented as:
Assuming that the variables a and b are the probabilities of two evidentiary events, the probability would be equal to:
For three evidentiary events a, b, and c, the formula expands so the probability is equal to:
In this fashion, the formula can be expanded to accommodate any number of evidentiary events.
This document introduces Bayes’ Formula and provides an in-depth example of how a Bayesian filter can be used to classify spam e-mail messages. A more general overview of Bayesian filtering is contained in the Introduction to Bayesian Filtering.
Suppose that CheapSkies Airlines flights between Boston and New York City are delayed 75% of the time if it’s raining. Also suppose that if a flight is scheduled to leave Boston before noon, it’s only delayed 10% percent of the time (rain or shine). If you take a CheapSkies flight from Boston to New York City on a rainy day, and the flight is scheduled to depart before noon, what are the odds your flight will be delayed?
Since there are only two pieces of evidence to consider (the weather conditions and the scheduled departure time), we can use the basic form of Bayes’ Formula to solve this problem. The probability that the flight will be delayed on a rainy day (75%, or 0.75) is represented by the variable a, and the probability that the flight will be delayed if it’s scheduled to leave before noon (10%, or 0.10) is represented by the variable b.
Filling in Bayes’ Formula from above, we see that the probability is equal to:
Solving this equation yields a probability of 0.25, or a 25% chance that your flight will be delayed.
An important observation from this example is that we’re dealing with independent events – the probability of one event has no impact on the other event. In the case of our example, there’s a 75% chance the flight will be delayed on a rainy day regardless of whether or not it’s scheduled to leave before noon. The probability of 75% includes both cases where the flight leaves before noon, and cases where it doesn’t. Likewise, the fact that there’s a 10% chance of the flight being delayed if it leaves before noon takes into account all flights – not just ones that leave on rainy days.
Using this concept to filter spam messages is known as naive Bayesian filtering, because we don’t take into account the relationships between the various words contained in email messages. While it may certainly be true that a message containing all three of the words “clinical”, “trial”, and “Viagra” is never spam, all the naive Bayesian filter knows is that the words “clinical” and “trial” occur mostly in non-spam messages while the word “Viagra” occurs mostly in spam messages.
In the real world, applications for Bayes’ Formula are messier and more complicated than the contrived example in the previous section. Following is a complete example of an e-mail message being filtered by a Bayesian filter similar to the one included in Process Software’s PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway.
For our example, we’re going to use the following “Nigerian spam” message. Note that we’re looking at the complete message – headers and all.
Received: from unknown (HELO incamail.com) (188.8.131.52) by venice.example.com with SMTP; 4 May 2003 14:15:35 -0000 Received: from [10.1.1.27] (HELO app2.incamail.com) by incamail.com (CommuniGate Pro SMTP 4.0.6) with ESMTP id 2217203; Sun, 04 May 2003 10:12:16 -0400 Message-ID: <6549662.1052057538895.JavaMail.firstname.lastname@example.org> From: BUMA SARO WIWA
To: email@example.com Subject: URGENT ASSISTANCE PLEAse Mime-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit X-Priority: 3 X-Suffix: INBOX Date: Sun, 04 May 2003 10:12:16 -0400 Content-Length: 2388 Princess Buma Saro-Wiwa 101 Younde avenue YD 2390 Cameroun. firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com Dear Friend, I got your contact from a directory in a library in one of our international school in my country and my instinct tells me to write you and i feel It will be a great pleasure to be in contact with someone like you. frist, let me introduce myself, my name is PrincessBuma Nene Saro Wiwa Ken. I am 27 years old from a royal family of Ken sarowiwa Kings hence I bear the tittle "PRINCESS" I am single and the only duagther of my parents.my father was a royal king of OGONI a prominent community in Rivers state Nigeria who was killed through hanging by the order of late Gen sani Abacha because of his community inheritance which are ( crude oil) that the F.G.N has taken possession of it. We are only two, I and my younger brother KEN SARO WIWA[jnr],after one year death of my father, my mother died of High Blood preasure (HBP).Meanwhile, we inherited some fortune in form of cash which I will reveal to you when we get your response.Our old family friends have been very dishonest with us since the death of our parents, they have duped us of virtually all cash in the banks with different stories and reason. As such we decided to cut off relationship from people around us because we find out that they have on motive to squander what is left. We had to leave Nigeria to stay in neighbuoring cameroun republic with the assistance of our family lawyer in Nigeria, we are here now for three years and would like to move out to another continent.I am interested to enter into strong relation with you as a friend and partner after i have gotten good information about you on internet.To be frank, we need someone who is kind and sincere that will assist us. We are interested to invest and live in your country therefore, it will be our pleasure if you can be of help to us by assisting us to handle the investment and planing of our fortune we inherited, to enable us build a new home for safekeeping of our lives. Please let me receive your response urgently.My kindest compliments. Yours Faithfully, Princess B. Saro-Wiwa. firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com ------------------------------------------------------------ Tired of spam and email overload? Get a FREE 6MB email account at http://www.incamail.com
The first thing a Bayesian filter must do is split the message into tokens and build a table of all the tokens it intends to use in the decision making process. For our sample message, the table would be:
10.1.1.27 184.108.40.206 abacha about account after all and another app2.incamail.com are around assist assistance assisting avenue banks bear because been bit blood brother bsarowiwa build buma cameroun can cash charset communigate community compliments contact content-length content-type continent.i country crude cut dear death decided died different directory dishonest duagther duped email enable enter esmtp f.g.n faithfully family father feel find for form fortune frank free friend friends frist from gen get good got gotten great had handle hanging has have hbp helo help hence here high his home http inbox incamail.com information inheritance inherited instinct interested international internet.to into introduce invest investment jnr ken killed kind kindest king kings late lawyer leave left let library like live lives may meanwhile mime-version mother motive move myself name need neighbuoring nene new nigeria now off ogoni oil old one only order our out overload parents parents.my partner people plain planing please pleasure possession preasure princess princessbuma pro prominent reason receive received relation relationship republic response response.our reveal rivers royal safekeeping sani saro saro-wiwa sarowiwa school since sincere single smtp some someone spam squander state stay stories strong subject such sun taken tells text that the therefore they three through tired tittle two unknown urgent urgently.my us-ascii venice.example.com very virtually was what when which who will with wiwa would write www.incamail.com x-priority x-suffix yahoo.com.au year years you younde younger your yours
Once the Bayesian filter has the list of tokens in the message, it searches the spam and non-spam token databases for these tokens. These databases of tokens are created and updated whenever the Bayesian filter is “trained” on a new message.
If a token from the message is found in the databases, the Bayesian filter calculates the token’s spamicity based on the following variables:
The algorithm used to calculate a token’s spamicity from these pieces of information is as follows:
Ham probability = Token frequency in ham messages / Number of ham messages trained on
Spam probability = Token frequency in spam messages / Number of spam messages trained on
If either Ham probability or Spam probability are greater than 1.0, set them equal to 1.0.
Spamicity = Spam probability / (Ham probability + Spam probability)
If a token has occurred less than 5 times total in both ham and spam messages, the token is assigned a default spamicity of 0.4. The following example and table use a set of sample token databases generated by live mail feed on a test system at Process Software. The Bayesian filter was trained on 19,977 spam messages and 5,141 ham messages.
An example of this algorithm, using the token “after” from the example spam message and frequency values in the above tables is:
Ham probability = 1184 / 5141 = 0.230305
Spam probability = 1134 / 19977 = 0.056765
Spamicity = 0.056765 / (0.056765 + 0.230305) = 0.197740
This tells us that there’s only a 19.8% chance that a message containing the word “after” is a spam message.
Repeating this process for each of the tokens in our sample message, we get the following frequencies and spamicities:
|Token||Spam Frequency||Ham Frequency||Spamicity|
Now that the filter has calculated the spamicity value for each token in the message, it needs to choose 15 tokens that will be plugged into the Bayesian formula to calculate the message’s overall spamicity. Using a subset of the tokens in the message enhances the Bayesian filter’s performance, especially when dealing with large messages.
Early implementations of Bayesian filters chose the 15 tokens that had the most extreme values (i.e. the 15 tokens whose value was furthest from the neutral value of 0.5). Spammers have started including words that they’re fairly sure will have a low spamicity, such as “congresswoman” and “umbrella”, in their messages in an attempt to circumvent this system. As a result, the Bayesian filter included in PreciseMail uses a sampling algorithm based on standards of deviation to choose the 15 tokens fed to the Bayesian formula.
For our sample message, the 15 tokens chosen by the Bayesian filter are:
Token Spamicity ----- --------- account 0.210984 after 0.197740 crude 0.990000 faithfully 0.990000 good 0.173185 inherited 0.010000 invest 0.836338 investment 0.845059 let 0.207959 overload 0.010000 prominent 0.990000 receive 0.862871 safekeeping 0.990000 sincere 0.990000 therefore 0.197946
Once the Bayesian filter has selected 15 tokens, it plugs their spamicity values into Bayes’ formula, as shown below. (With 15 different values, this gets a little bit messy on paper.) For our sample message, the probability of the message being spam is:
This equation simplifies to:
Solving this equation yields a probability of 0.999993, or a 99.9993% chance that the message is spam. If this message was sent to an email server protected by PreciseMail, it would be quarantined, discarded, or tagged as spam based on the options chosen by the systems administrator.