Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

The Joy of Text

Posted by metaphorical on 25 December 2006

E-mail used to be great. I remember when e-mail first became fast enough to use in real-time, roughly 1995. You could exchange messages nearly as fast as IM would be a few years later, and with almost all the same convenience. And yet, e-mail is still essentially asynchronous, giving us enough time to compose a message, or ourselves.

But e-mail has become an embarrassment of riches, and not just spam. For many of us, dealing with the remaining legitimate messages occupies our entire morning, more days than not. And e-mail has become a loophole for nefarious network vectors.

The Department of Defense has taken a small step in taking back e-mail: it has banned HTML e-mail, reports Federal Computer Week magazine. Apparently, the concern isn’t spam, rather it’s HTML’s ability to transport spyware and other executable code.

DOD bars use of HTML e-mail, Outlook Web Access

Due to an increased network threat condition, the Defense Department is blocking all HTML-based e-mail messages and has banned the use of Outlook Web Access e-mail applications, according to a spokesman for the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations.

The reference to an increased threat condition apparently relates to a successful network attack at the Naval War College in late November which FCW also reported on:

Network attack disables Naval War College

Computer and e-mail systems are off-line at the Naval War College following a network intrusion Nov. 15. After the attack, the Defense Department raised its information warfare awareness level to Information Condition (Infocon) 4.

I think we could all go this way, in the hopes that cut down on the spam problem. Spam can still use attachments, but without displaying text as graphics, most of that stuff will get filtered away. What the hardship in reverting to text-only systems? If a message has to be formatted, we have plenty of ways to do that: create a web page and link to it, for one. With blogs, MySpace accounts, and new systems like Parakey, it’s getting easier and easier. The alternative is e-mail becoming less and less usable.

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