What is Image Spam?

The Purpose of Spam
Spam has become the multi-purpose word to describe all unwanted and/or unsolicited email communications that arrive in a consumer's inbox.  These identical messages are sent to massive numbers of users, and are also sometimes referred to as 'bulk email.' The purposes of Spam can vary from advertising and marketing to increase sales, Phishing schemes for the purpose of identity theft, and 'informative' newsletters or bulletins from various companies and corporations. 

Protecting Against Spam
In order to combat the massive amount of spam that proliferated as exponentially as internet access did, anti-spam software and spam filtering tools began doing a brisk business.  Most email services have fairly competent spam filters as part of their essential package.  The way that most Spam filters work is by checking for various text criteria.  They watch for pre-set phrases or words as the subject lines of emails messages and suspect patterns or word frequency in the body of the email.  However, these anti-spam devices completely miss the latest Spamming trend-Image Spam.

How Image Spam Differs from "Normal" Spam
Image Spam works because, since it is an image, the text filters of spam-screens cannot be applied to it.  Image Spam will typically contain no actual words or text, just the HTML code to display the image. At first glance it may appear to be a letter, or printed message, complete with links to click on, but close examination will reveal it to be an image (jpg) of the typed content.  Particularly since many email users have their system configured to automatically download images in an email, the spam message is easily propagated to their attention.

How Image Spam Is Effective
Since image spam does not, by its nature, contain any links to click on, its use is somewhat limited, but still startling affective.  While it is unlikely that any user would be interested enough to actually type the URL into their address bar to find out more, the message has still been delivered, and works on the subconscious brain for some time.  At the moment most image spam is coming out of the stock industry, where the spammer will invest heavily in a stock and then send out the massive images encouraging users to invest similarly. (He then sells his stock when it's a premium and makes a substantial monetary gain.)  It works because selecting stocks is often approached by amateurs from a 'gut' feeling rather than an exact science.  What they often fail to connect is that their 'gut' feeling of 'oh, this is good/positive' or 'people are talking about this' is his subconscious recalling the Image Spam.

Why Image Spam is Dangerous

There are a couple reasons to be more concerned about image spam than traditional spam.  First, it takes a significant amount of bandwidth (above and beyond that taken over by traditional spam) when spammed messages result in image downloads.  Image files are much larger that ASCII character strings of the traditional text spam messages, and effectively slow transfer rates and operating systems. In addition, Image Spam creates yet another way of accessing your operating system through backdoors and/or holes in the security setup.