The UK has a fine record of counter intelligence. Part of this
is the skill of extracting valuable information from what otherwise
seems like a torrent of noise. Historically computer based analysis
was led by a team at Bletchley park with central members of Alan
Turing, Andy Flowers and Bill Tutte.
Today one of the largest efforts is to gather valid email
addresses (yours!). This process is sometimes referred to as
Phishing takes two forms:
- Get you to re-enter your email, password, credit card details
and other details on a bogus web form which looks like your bank /
major on line shop etc.
- Get you simply to click on any link in an email which says "to
show images from xyz click here" or "Email not displaying properly?
Click here to see full version"
This is why with Christmas spirit, the number of emails which
contain "special offers" and a "blank" image which is not yet
displayed has once again increased.
Why do spammers send such emails?
Surely if they are going to entice you to click on the ad, they
want you to see something attractive? How does simply clicking
increase spam sent to me?
It all depends who "they" are. More often than not these
images contain a hidden unique reference which the sender can use
to find which of the multitude of emails they send has been the
source of your click. This information is also sent when
you just accept that you want to see the image. So
by responding in any way to that otherwise blank unsolicited email
you will probably be confirming to them that the email address they
used ends up with a human being viewing it.
The economics of sending emails mean that they can turn a profit
on even such slender pickings, so perpetuating spam.
If you use Gmail or many other popular email providers, then in
Google's own words:
"Have you ever wondered why Gmail asks you before showing images
in emails? We did this to protect you from unknown senders who
might try to use images to compromise the security of your computer
or mobile device."
Well if you don't display the image, the sender ('s sever) will
never receive a request for it and so not get confirmation that
it's been received by a valid email address. Google does not
do email marketing. So it is good and helpful that Google download
all images and then any link determining a valid or an invalid
email addresses is broken for the sender.
Of course Google is where it is today because it's awfully good
at using various bits of information to target you with
"appropriate" or "high return" adverts. If for some reason it was
stopped from "not reading your emails" but scanning them for
appropriate phrases" to target ads, then may be it could just use
the fact that you downloaded the image instead?
So the next time an email asks you to click on a link or see a
picture…just say no.
Links that may be of interest.
Google is storing the images for
Impact for email
Impact for email marketers
The national Museum of Computing
(This webpage only exists as a standard insecure webpage however
you may navigate to it by pasting the following url in your address
Alan Turing (New
Alan Turing (Wiki)
Tommy Flowers (Independent) (This
webpage only exists as a standard insecure webpage however you may
navigate to it by pasting the following url in your address bar:
Bill Tutte (Wiki)
Bletchley Park (BBC)
Codes and Cyphers (This webpage
only exists as a standard insecure webpage however you may navigate
to it by pasting the following url in your address bar: