They clog your inbox every day and you can’t seem to stop them.
The war against spammers and computer users seems to have been going on as long as the feud between Apple and Microsoft.
But unlike those thriving companies who are in a sometimes less than friendly rivalry, the spammers are the only ones making money off your annoyance.
Researchers have determined the malevolent messengers are increasingly turning to a new idea to thwart all those filters you likely have set up on your PC – pictures.
Most spam scanning software is designed to catch words and phrases – like references to the enlargement of certain body parts or offers to sell you a particular prescription drug that can temporarily do the same thing.
But an increasing number of them have begun to turn their printed pitches into pictures, something many filters can’t recognize. Some newer software is able to look for certain kinds of images. But the not-to-be-outsmarted scammers have that in hand, too.
They’ve begun using new tools to vary those pics, changing a small part of the colour or altering the brightness, all designed to fool your software safeguard into letting the offending message in.
“If you are trying to fingerprint that image, it appears different every time,” explains Dmitri Alperovitch of anti-spam firm CipherTrust Inc.
One company that studies the spread of these things claims it’s seen a 40 percent increase in image spam, and that the pictures now account for 15 percent of all the unwanted messages being sent – a jump of 14 percent from last year.
It also puts a load on email systems and costs Internet Service Providers money, because the photo-garbage is about 7 times bigger than a text message and uses extra bandwidth.
So what can you do? At the moment, not a lot. For every advance in filtering legitimate companies make, the spammers seem to come up with a fix of their own, a tit-for-tat mousetrap battle where you are the cheese.
Just remember not to open any email attachments or pictures if you don’t know the sender. And make use of your delete key as you browse through your messages.
Because in this case, a picture may not be worth a thousand words.