Report On New Spam Tactic
Anti-Spam experts at SophosLabs startled the world with a news item in the month of September (2006). Their systems detected a new kind of spam mail that uses animated graphic images to lure their customers.
Nothing earth-shaking, one would say. One has learned to live with the nuisance; they are like flies hovering around your face, which you simply wave away with your hand. The reason why this news became sensational and got picked up by all the news feeders was because of the word “subliminal" in it.
The news item that the spammers wanted to spread (and that got detected) was on Trimax Corporation, a small-cap stock. Such campaigns are dubbed “pump-and-dump" stock campaigns by people in the know. The trick the spammers deployed this time however, was to compose the main ad as a GIF image. After doing so, they went one step further and composed three other frames; each of these frames were of the same size, same color level and same format as the frame for the main advert (basic prerequisites for an animation to occur). These other frames had the word “Buy" placed randomly in two different hues, with and without exclamation marks for added emphasis. In the GIF construction program, they set these frames to appear after every ten to forty milliseconds. So, when the advert appeared in the mail, you got to see the main ad, and then these lil “Buy!" frames popped up every now and then.
Cool, eh! There are quite a few of these lovelies in my spam box, as I write this piece.
Cat And Mouse Game
It is the same cat and mouse game. As anti-spam filters become stronger, spammers keep cranking newer and more creative ways to beat them.
Up until two years ago, majority of the spamming community used text to communicate their love to us. Beginning last year, they came up with GIF messages which timid text-oriented filters couldn't block. When anti-spammers built their OCR (optical character reader) plugins that were capable of looking at GIF spam eyeball-to-eyeball; along came these animated GIFs which did the same thing - communicating their love to us - but now with a song and dance.
The trick that gives the spamming side an edge - for the moment, at least - is that the latest version of anti-spamming OCR plugin apparently only looks into the first frame for specific keywords ["BUY" is a keyword! :)]. After having satisfied itself that the first frame is innocent, it waves ahead the entire cargo. And there it lands in your inbox, waiting for you to open it!
Is It Truly Subliminal?
By its very definition, for a message to be truly subliminal, the hidden text/ image should not be discernible to the conscious eye. But the offending advertisement's BUY message is. And since it is visible, even if the anti-spam filter allowed it into the inbox, you as an intelligent reader can immediately make out that the message is spam. Whatever value the “pump-and-dump" spammers wanted the TRIMAX stock to shoot up to, I am sure it may not have succeeded. Or perhaps, may it have? (The latest ticker on Trimax is here . )
By setting the delay period for successive frames to appear to even less value, would it have been possible to flash the “BUY" messages without the eyes consciously detecting it? Meaning, would the message have become truly subliminal? Would they have achieved what they wanted to achieve? Gaaa! When is the next anti-spam version due???
The Controversy Continues
The advertisers are out to get Subliminal Messaging by its balls, really. Right from the word go, sensationalism has followed subliminality like a faithful dog. Whatever be the motivation of the likes of James Vicary or Vance Packard in the fifties, or the spammers in the twenty-first century, their shenanigans have only served to give subliminal messaging a bad name.
It is like a double-edged sword. Used correctly, subliminal messaging can be, and is, a good self-development tool. So while the spammer-antispammer battle continues out there, let's improve and enrich our lives with those beautiful audio and visual CDs!
Sanjay Agrawal is a Business Coach and self-development enthusiast. Get rid of the pain and the hurt in your life by listening to some excellent audio subliminal messaging CDs available here . Want a visual version that achieves the same thing while you are working on your computer? Get this .
(The complete news from Sophos, including the offending ad, and views & comments from the experts, may be viewed here . )
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