From:         Patrick Douglas Crispen 

TODAY'S TOURBUS STOP: Update: Spam Study / Know Your Users

The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved

Howdy, y'all, and greetings once again from deep behind the orange curtain in beautiful Irvine, California, home of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. :P

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On with the show ...

Update: My Never-Ending Spam Study

Right before Valentine's Day, I mentioned I was conducting a spam study:

In specific, I'm taking all the emails I receive in a week (~2,500) and sorting them by hand into various categories -- legitimate emails, list error messages, porn spams, drugs and health spams, etc. At the end of the week I'm going to reply to ALL of the spams that I can and then record what happens to the volume of spams I receive at 1 month, 2 months, and 3 months out.

I also promised that I'd update you as the months progressed.

Well, after sorting some 1,877 emails by hand (87% of which were spams), several alert TOURBUS riders informed me that my study was fatally flawed.

You see, more and more spammers are using something called "web bugs," little 1x1 transparent GIF images embedded in the HTML of spam emails. As Kee Hinckley at points out

If a spammer sends you HTML mail with a [web bug] graphic in it, they can then track who opens the email. The graphic can have a unique name (e.g. xxxx.gif?e=foo@bar.cmo) which can be used to identify who it went to. And now the spammer knows something that no web-based cookie could ever find out automatically. They know what your email address is, they know that you have an HTML- enabled email program [like Eudora or Outlook], and they know that you read spam messages.

That's right, folks. Simply by opening a spam message you can generate more spam. And, so far, the only solutions I have found for dealing with email web bugs is either to not open any spams at all (which is easier said than done) or to disable HTML in your email program (which isn't a particularly attractive alternative.)

If anyone has any other suggestions on how to deal with these little nasties, I'm all ears. Until then, if you'd like to learn how to disable HTML in your email program, just search for "disable HTML" and the name of your email program at Google.

Anyway, since I opened a mess of emails in order to sort them by category, and since more than a few of those emails contained web bugs, my data was ruined.

But has that deterred me? Not on your life, Chester!

After tweaking my version of Eudora -- turning off the Microsoft Viewer, disabling executables in HTML documents, and killing the preview pane -- I embarked on a *NEW* study just a few days ago, this time investigating if replying to spams that contain instructions on how to signoff via email increases or decreases the number of spams you receive.

Here's the data I've collected so far:

Between 7:00 PM (PST) on Monday, April 28, and 7:00 PM on Tuesday, April 29, I received a total of 730 emails. Of those, 22 were "personal" messages (messages from friends, readers, lists to which I subscribe), 2 messages contained viruses (detected and killed by Norton AntiVirus), and the remaining 706 messages (96.7%) were spams.

To avoid web bugs, I disconnected my computer from the Internet and then opened each spam, manually sorting each into one of five categories:

Spam Error Messages - error messages generated by spammers spoofing my email address Total: 3 (0.4%)

Spam with instructions on how to signoff via email Total: 89 (12.6%)

Spam with instructions on how to signoff via a URL Total: 366 (43.34%)

Spam with no signoff information Total: 239 (33.85%)

Nigerian investment scam emails Total: 9 (1.27%)

[I like the Nigerian investment scam emails so much that I decided to put them in a separate category. Don't tell Mrs. Sese-Seko, widow of late Preisdent Mobutu of Zaire, though. I just don't think she'd understand.]

I replied to all 89 spams that contained instructions on how to signoff via email. 32 (35.95%) of the signoff emails I sent bounced because the email addresses given were invalid. I only received 6 replies (6.74%) that my email address had been successfully removed from the spammers' lists.

I'll keep checking my volume of spams over the next couple weeks, seeing if my replying to the spams causes any change in my spam volume. And, if I get adventurous, I may even take a stab at visiting all of those signoff URLs just to see what happens. :P

Update: Know Your Users

Back in March I told you about "Know Your Users: Web Accessibility from the User's Prospective." a 27 minute video created by Fresno State featuring computer users with disabilities discussing and demonstrating the tools they use to access the Web -- Dragon Naturally Speaking, WindowEyes, Zoom Text, JAWS, and a refreshable Braille display -- as well as the common problems these users with disabilities encounter when they try to access different Web pages.

I also mentioned that the video is so new it wasn't yet available either online (in a free, streaming media format) or for purchase.

Well, the video's order form is now available at .

Our friends at Fresno State also informed me that a video clip with excerpts of the video is now available at

Better still, additional support materials as well as free, streaming video clips of each segment of the video will be available on the Fresno State site later this summer.

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That's it for today. Have a safe and happy week, and we'll talk again soon. :)

The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved
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