Microsoft is taking spam fighting more seriously in the next version of its widely used Outlook e-mail and contact-management software. Outlook 11 will, by default, no longer grab data such as images from outside servers when previewing e-mail formatted like Web pages. The ability to send and receive e-mail formatted in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was at one time touted as a feature in Microsoft's e-mail programs.
"We've taken a step backward, so to speak, by blocking external content when you preview e-mail," Simon Marks, Office XP product manager, said this week. Marks described the new feature as an important spam-fighting tool.
Data such as image, sound and video files in HTML-formatted e-mail is usually pulled from a Web server in much the same way a Web browser grabs such data. But in the case of accessing content through a Web browser, someone typically makes the decision to go to the site. With Web-based spam mail, the content comes to the person unwanted--sometimes with strings attached.
When content is downloaded in spam e-mail it can act as what is known as a "Web beacon," telling the sender that the e-mail address is in fact valid, a technique used by spammers. Viewing the message in a preview pane without opening it is enough to trigger the Web beacon, analysts said. The beacon can lead to more unwanted mail from the original sender and, potentially, from other spammers who have access to the same mailing list.
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News source: ZDNet