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[ISN] Microsoft protects Mac but not Windows users with web bug mail firewall
From: InfoSec News (isnC4I.ORG)
Date: Wed Feb 21 2001 - 04:10:49 CST
By: Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco
Posted: 21/02/2001 at 09:32 GMT
Not all Microsoft mail clients are created equal.
Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury has unearted an intriguing
difference between the protection afforded to users of Microsoft mail
clients running on Windows or the Macintosh.
Mac users running Entourage, the mail client-cum-PIM that debuted with
Office 2001 have the option of turning off HTML mail, writes Dan. But
that's an option not available to Outlook Express users on Windows.
As he pointed out in his weblog last week, turning off HTML mail is a
basic security precaution, as web bugs in HTML mail messages can
reveal information about you that you'd really not want a spammer to
Gillmor's enquiries produced this pasteurised response from
"Q: Why is it possible to disable HTML in Entourage? A: This was a
choice the Mac team made to provide this option for Entourage
customers. ... Outlook will look into providing the option to disable
HTML mail if we hear that our customers are concerned about this.
Since most Outlook users are protected by corporate or private
firewalls and no identifying information can be found through 'Web
Bugs', our customers have not been concerned about this issue to
The answer implicitly recognizes that the ability to block HTML mail
nasties is a protection equivalent to having an extra, personal
firewall. Surely something all users would want?
Not quite. Microsoft explains that Outlook users on Windows "like HTML
mail and have not asked that this feature be disabled, or have the
option for being disabled [our emphasis].
Which can lead you to two conclusions: Mac users are vociferous
enough, and savvy enough with the problem to be blessed with the extra
protection. But Windows users aren't.
In a supplement to yesterday's log, Seattle Times Mac columnist Glenn
Fleishman adds that Eudora for Windows gives users the option of using
the Microsoft HTML engine, or its own built-in HTML rendering engine
which displays HTML mail but firewalls you off from background HTML
Fleishman adds:- "On the Mac, Eudora and Outlook Express both appear
to use Apple's URL Access extension for handling HTTP at a system
level. URL Access doesn't do cookies in any form. Eudora for Mac can
have automatic image downloading disabled as a separate option with a
button that appears that can be clicked to download images on a
Much kudos should go to Microsoft's Mac team for having the
sensitivity to recognize that users want the freedom to turn off HTML
nasties. While a reproachful raspberry goes to their Windows
Sure, the Windows market outnumbers the Mac market ten to one, and is
bound to include a disproportionate number of computer neophytes. But
that market also numbers many tech savvy users too, and we're only
talking about an option here, not a default. Is it asking too much to
give Windows users Mac equality?
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