Watch CBSN Live

Yahoo! Can Make You Seem Like Yo-Yo

If you ever used Yahoo! mail to ask a potential employer to "evaluate" your resume, they might have concluded your grasp of the English language was insufficient for the job.

Yahoo! Inc. confirmed on Wednesday that its e-mail software has automatically changed certain words — including evaluate — in a bid to prevent hackers from spreading viruses.

Although the company declined to list the words its software had been changing, a report on the technology news Web site reported that the program changes "mocha" to "espresso," and the letters "eval" to "review."

"Evaluate," then, becomes, "reviewuate," and that job application doesn't look so polished anymore.

A spokeswoman for Yahoo! said the word-changing program was just one of several practices the company takes to ensure the security of its e-mail.

The problem with words like mocha, she said, is that along with describing a flavor and a color, it is a special command in the JavaScript computer language, which hackers may intercept to launch malicious programs.

"Yahoo! was trying to protect against abuse by editing out certain words," said Technology Consultant Larry Magid, "but the problem is, they're also changing the English language, and people who send e-mail expect their e-mail to arrive pretty much as sent."

Aside from a general list of e-mail guidelines, which states that Yahoo! will take measures to insure tight security, the company had not previously disclosed the word-changing practice to e-mail users.

While some security experts, including Alex Shipp of the e-mail filtering company MessageLabs, said Yahoo's practice was a reasonable tactic to keep its e-mail secure, others noted that they knew of no other e-mail services that were changing the text in messages.

"It looks to me like it's just buggy software," said Richard Smith, who runs the Web security site Smith said companies typically intercept hackers by blocking certain underlying computer code, but not the actual text of the messages.

"Yahoo! is protecting people's computers, but at the same time it's also making people look a little bit stupid by changing words in their messages," said Magid.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft Corp. said its free e-mail service, HotMail, blocks certain pieces of software code that may be used by hackers, without interfering with any of the actual words contained in the e-mail messages.

Searches of such non-English words like "reviewuate" and "medireview" — changed from "medieval — produce thousands of results on the Internet search engine Google, offering some indication of how often Yahoo's mail system has replaced words.

Magid said he tested the system himself, and Yahoo! is not changing the words "evaluate" and "mocha" now. "The message I sent through had those words intact, but there are reports that this has happened in the past."

A test confirmed those two words were not changed.

Yahoo! was not immediately available to say whether or when it had changed its practices.

View CBS News In