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.
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.
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 bar: http://www.tnmoc.org/)
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: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-tommy-flowers-1184727.html)
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: http://www.codesandciphers.org.uk/lorenz/fish.htm)