Geek Trivia: What English town is infamous for its role in testing early profanity filters?

There's a computer security term for sorting issues involving dangerous plaintext words. The term is named after an English township that famously ran afoul of some early online profanity filters.

Computer security experts have contributed a great many things to human society in recent years, most of which are quite positive, some of which are less so. One of the lesser-known entries on the negative side of CompSec ledger -- at least according to linguists -- is medireview. The word didn't really exist until computer security willed it into being, largely through a rather clumsy application of email protection.

Medireview, you see, is a synonym for medieval that was conjured up within the confines of Yahoo! Mail during the summer of 2001. In an attempt to neutralize email messages and attachments that contained nefarious elements of Javascript code, Yahoo! ran a find-replace function over all its mail traffic to substitute certain command phrases with plain-language synonyms. Actual written communications would supposedly see little appreciable change, but Javascript attacks would be rendered useless.

Alas, no security plan survives contact with the user. Yahoo! substituted the Javascript commands eval, expression, and mocha with the rough English equivalents of review, statement, and espresso. Unfortunately, Yahoo! didn't put any context parameters around the substitutions, so the word medieval became medireview -- among other rather odd linguistic manglings. (Who knew Van Gogh was a statementist painter?)

Believe it or not, there's actually a formal computer security term for these types of sorting issues involving dangerous plaintext words. It's named after an English township that famously ran afoul of some early online profanity filters.


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By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...