Blank emails--what the hell?

Several times a day, I get e-mails that are totally blank. They all appear to be from random throwaway addresses at places like Yahoo and Hotmail, but the messages are completely blank–no message, no attachment, no subject, no nothing. What’s the deal here?

Dr. J

They pique your curiosity enough to open them. The sender discovers he’s hit a valid email address and here comes the spam.
:smack: - just because I can!

If the email truly contains no content and your email system does not trigger a read receipt notice, the spammer will never know they hit a valid address.

I’m getting them too on my Yahoo account. Just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone.


Maybe there is a one-pixel white .jpg in it? Such could be used to track which emails get opened, since the image would instruct your computer to look up the server the image is located on.

Don’t know if this is related, but it’s a common complaint in our office. It’s usually one of two things. Either the e-mail is in HTML format and they don’t have it set to view HTML, or there was an attachement in txt format that was filtered as potential virus/worm material.

Won’t the absence of an error message bouncing back tell them they hit a valid address?

My Hotmail leaves a big message at the top of the page saying it has removed such-and-such attachment because it looks like a virus. The e-mail is totally blank but I have that message telling me why.

I don’t get them often, though. What e-mail do you use?

I was just tossing out some things that happen at our company via GroupWise e-mail (Novell product) and some friends’ companies.

Most blank e-mails we get are actually in HTML format, but the user doesn’t have the mail set to view in HTML, so it’s blank…well appears to be.

As for the attachments, I know some companies pull these off if they meet/fail certain criteria, and they don’t always notify their users. So if body of the mail is blank, but it had an attachment or ‘forward’, the user is left wondering.

Nope. Many spam filters will delete identified spam before worrying if the address is valid. So no bounce. There simply is no point bouncing spam. Spammers don’t care about bounces, it’s not like it’s going back to any real email address or ISP they’re using. It’s someone else’s problem. Just another reason why spammers are lower life forms, somewhere below pond-scum.

The absence of a bounce doesn’t tell the spammer the address is valid, and a bounce only might tell them it’s invalid. So I don’t think they bother with them.

All a spammer is interested in is any web hits from embedded images and links. Or any “unsubscribe” messages from anyone foolish enough to use them.

As to the OP. My bet is a virus/spam attachment that has automatically been stripped somewhere before ithe email reached you. Either that or as Philster suggests, someone who thinks the entire world uses over-blown HTML email without including a plain-text alternative.

I get these all the time too.

It’s definitely not HTML – I view my messages in plain text and can see the entire headers and everything. And I don’t think it’s something that has been filtered out beforehand – I do all my own mail serving, and there’s absolutely no text about an automatically stripped attachment, which most virus scanners insert.

Here’s the complete header text of a message I got the other day, for instance (I replaced private information like my IP address with x’s, and I’ve bolded the header fields, but otherwise this is the complete text):

      • I saw this somewhere, maybe here–but one of the anti-spam screening programs has a unique bug in that if it is sent a totally-blank e-mail, it crashes and stops working. Or something like that. I think it is Mailwasher, but didn’t turn up anything on that right off.
  • It has been suggested that the blank messages are simple address probes, but then -usually- the return addresses are forged – so the real sender would nnever get notification anyway.

I get these too, using Yahoo! mail. It’s not an HTML problem because I get HTML mail all the time–my account is set to display it. It’s not set to display remote images, which means the problem is not a white pixel image–my account would tell me if there was an imbedded image, so that I could choose to display it. Finally, Yahoo! doesn’t (AFAIK) scan attachments until I decide to open them, so I don’t think it’s deleting virus attachements.

Maybe the explanation is much simpler - incompetent spammers. From what I have read, many of them are not particularly knowledgeable people, using off-the-shelf bulk mail applications. I can easily imagine such people accidentally omitting the payload from their spam sometimes.

This email has been erased by the Eraser!

I tend to get quite a few as well, and as someone pointed out, viewing the source shows that there really is no message.

Mine, however, consistently come from and are sent, strangely to my address.

This seems to support the “blank messages possibly crashing spam filters” theory that was put forward.

But seriously. Why, why, why would spammers go to such lengths to defeat spam filters. People who set those up (or go so far as to have addresses) are not going to respond to the spam in any positive way. Are they?

– Cassandra

I get these on a semi-regular basis, too. Viewing the source proves that there’s absolutely no content to them at all. Mine usually end up with a date/time of some time in 1969 (I think this is because they arrive with no date/time and this is the beginning of the UNIX epoch). I get them on both my home and work mail accounts, neither of which go through any 3rd-party spam or virus filtering (although both are analyzed by SpamProbe, which simply flags the mail as spam or not-spam). I was hoping someone had a definitive answer as this has been bugging me for weeks now.

I get them too. What happens is, there was originally a virus (usually a form of Klez) included in that message. Either your email provider or your ISP or someone filted out that virus. Once the virus was gone, they continued to send the original message, although without the virus, it is blank. Nothing will happen if you open these emails, since the virus is already removed.


How to use Outlook Express to automatically get rid of such messages:

      • Whenever my ISP filters out a virus, they delete the original message totally (it is never sent) and then they send their own notification of doing so – and I get way more blank e-mails than virus filter notifications.

I have found this, but it’s old.

Since you’re using Spamcop, have you checked the discussion forums there? It sure seems like something they would have found or would like to know about.

It might also have something about the blank emails in general – but I didn’t check.