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Spamfire Manual > The Revenge Menu > All about WebBugs

All about WebBugs

WebBugs are virus-like HTML commands that spammers embed in their spam to track your email reading habits. A WebBug cannot cause harm to your computer, but it can invade your privacy and cause you to receive more spam.

What is a WebBug?

A WebBug is simply a kind of image embedded in an email message. When you open a message containing a WebBug, your email program contacts the spammer's Web server and requests the image so it can be displayed to you. But the image contains code that actually connects to a database server and sends the spammer some piece of information to identify you. Sometimes, your actual email address is transmitted. More often, it is simply a unique identifier number that the spammer has assigned to your email address.

As soon as you open a message with a WebBug in it, the spammer gets a notice that you have opened their spam. Now they know that your address is a valid address. What's more, they know that you don't delete spam, you actually open it and read it. This is an encouragement for the spammer to send you more and more spam, which they will surely do.

At the time of this writing, between 10% and 15% of spam emails contain WebBugs. Of course, Spamfire will identify and intercept most WebBugs, so you don't have to worry about them too much. But isn't it sickening that spammers are willing to stoop so low to invade your privacy? That's where the Spamfire Revenge Menu comes in.

How to Bug the WebBugs

When you choose Bug the WebBugs... from the Revenge menu, Spamfire looks for WebBugs in your saved spam. It gives you a list of all the messages that contain WebBugs.

Then you click the Bug 'em button. Spamfire will strip out all the code that can identify you and replace it with a random string of gibberish—or a friendly message of your choosing (we'll leave that up to your imagination).

Spamfire then opens a custom Web page full of sterilized WebBugs. Spamfire periodically re-loads the Web page as long as it is open in your Web browser. Each time the page is re-loaded, every WebBug is activated. But instead of sending your email address or ID number, the WebBug transmits your message directly to the spammers' servers.

These messages can cause all kinds of unpredictable behavior on the spammers' servers. At the very least, you are introducing irrelevant data to the spammers' log files. The spammers will have to take extra steps to account for this irrelevant data. However, it is also possible that these messages could cause serious technical problems for a server that isn't prepared to receive unusual data. If a database server expects to receive a 6 digit numeral but instead receives a 50 character string of letters, there's no telling what might happen to the server or the log file analyzer.