Salami slicing refers to a series of many small actions, often performed by clandestine means, that as an accumulated whole produces a much larger action or result that would be difficult or unlawful to perform all at once. The term is typically used pejoratively. Although salami slicing is often used to carry out illegal activities, it is only a strategy for gaining an advantage over time by accumulating it in small increments, so it can be used in perfectly legal ways as well.
An example of salami slicing, also known as penny shaving, is the fraudulent practice of stealing money repeatedly in extremely small quantities, usually by taking advantage of rounding to the nearest cent (or other monetary unit) in financial transactions. It would be done by always rounding down, and putting the fractions of a cent into another account. The idea is to make the change small enough that any single transaction will go undetected.
In information security, a salami attack is a series of minor attacks that together results in a larger attack. Computers are ideally suited to automating this type of attack.
In academia, salami slicing refers to the practice of creating several short publications out of material that could have, perhaps more validly, been published as a single article in a journal or review. (See also least publishable unit).
Salami slicing attacks
In January 1993, four executives of a rental-car franchise in Florida were charged with defrauding at least 47,000 customers using a salami technique.
In Los Angeles, in October 1998, district attorneys charged four men with fraud for allegedly installing computer chips in gasoline pumps that cheated consumers by overstating the amounts pumped.
In 2008, a man was arrested for fraudulently creating 58,000 accounts which he used to collect money through verification deposits from online brokerage firms a few cents at a time. While opening the accounts and retaining the funds may not have been illegal by themselves, the authorities charged that the individual opened the accounts using false names (including those of cartoon characters), addresses, and social security numbers, thus violating the laws against mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud.
Historically, actual physical "penny shaving" may be considered a form of salami slicing. The edges of coins made of precious metals have been clipped or shaved by individuals in order to procure small quantities of said metals at a time with the intention that the coin would still retain its nominal value.
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Film and television
Salami slicing has played a key role in the plots of several films. The earliest mention of this practice was in the UK TV series The Sweeney, a 1976 episode called "Tomorrow Man", of a man rounding up percentage points and putting the difference in his own account (totaling two million dollars), using a computer. Other films include Superman III, Hackers, Entrapment, I Love You Phillip Morris, and Office Space (one of whose characters mentions the scheme's earlier use in Superman III).
In a 1972 episode of the TV series M*A*S*H, Radar attempts to ship an entire Jeep home from Korea one piece at a time. Hawkeye commented that his mailman "would have a retroactive hernia" if he found out.
In the anime series Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG, terrorist Hideo Kuze uses salami slicing in order to finance his actions, eventually stealing enough money to buy plutonium from a Russian smuggler.
The term is referred to, but not used by name, in the country song "The Ballad of Silicon Slim" by John Forster. A non-digital variant of the practice is described in the 1976 Johnny Cash song, "One Piece at a Time", in which the protagonist, an automobile factory worker, steals individual parts to build a complete car over a period of decades.
An example of salami slicing also appears in Chapter 15 of Harry Harrison's A Stainless Steel Rat is born. The revolutionaries in Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress use the technique to fund their war for independence. Thomas Whiteside's 1978 book, Computer Capers, documents how a programmer at a mail-order company diverted money from rounded-down sales commissions into a phony account for three years before he was caught.