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Spam classification: a comparative analysis of different boosted decision tree approaches

Shrawan Kumar Trivedi (Indian Institute of Management Sirmaur, Sirmaur, India)
Prabin Kumar Panigrahi (Indian Institute of Management Indore, Indore, India)

Journal of Systems and Information Technology

ISSN: 1328-7265

Article publication date: 30 October 2018

Issue publication date: 14 November 2018




Email spam classification is now becoming a challenging area in the domain of text classification. Precise and robust classifiers are not only judged by classification accuracy but also by sensitivity (correctly classified legitimate emails) and specificity (correctly classified unsolicited emails) towards the accurate classification, captured by both false positive and false negative rates. This paper aims to present a comparative study between various decision tree classifiers (such as AD tree, decision stump and REP tree) with/without different boosting algorithms (bagging, boosting with re-sample and AdaBoost).


Artificial intelligence and text mining approaches have been incorporated in this study. Each decision tree classifier in this study is tested on informative words/features selected from the two publically available data sets (SpamAssassin and LingSpam) using a greedy step-wise feature search method.


Outcomes of this study show that without boosting, the REP tree provides high performance accuracy with the AD tree ranking as the second-best performer. Decision stump is found to be the under-performing classifier of this study. However, with boosting, the combination of REP tree and AdaBoost compares favourably with other classification models. If the metrics false positive rate and performance accuracy are taken together, AD tree and REP tree with AdaBoost were both found to carry out an effective classification task. Greedy stepwise has proven its worth in this study by selecting a subset of valuable features to identify the correct class of emails.

Research limitations/implications

This research is focussed on the classification of those email spams that are written in the English language only. The proposed models work with content (words/features) of email data that is mostly found in the body of the mail. Image spam has not been included in this study. Other messages such as short message service or multi-media messaging service were not included in this study.

Practical implications

In this research, a boosted decision tree approach has been proposed and used to classify email spam and ham files; this is found to be a highly effective approach in comparison with other state-of-the-art modes used in other studies. This classifier may be tested for different applications and may provide new insights for developers and researchers.


A comparison of decision tree classifiers with/without ensemble has been presented for spam classification.



Trivedi, S.K. and Panigrahi, P.K. (2018), "Spam classification: a comparative analysis of different boosted decision tree approaches", Journal of Systems and Information Technology, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 298-105.



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