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Marks & Spencer cracks own email system

Beleaguered retail giant is considered e-clueless by many, and mailing list blunder won't convince them otherwise

Marks & Spencer is not known for its e-commerce prowess, and an email glitch last week isn't likely to improve critics' opinions.

Subscribers to an M&S mailing list on Friday received an enigmatic message seemingly addressed to someone else. The email, addressed to "Oliver Cope", was intended to inform consumers of new bargains in the Home Furnishings department, but may instead have aroused fears that the company's computers had been hacked.

In fact, the mailing was the result of a technical mistake that substituted the name of someone from the site's development team for that of the subscriber. M&S quickly caught the error, however, and sent out a message a few minutes later explaining what had happened.

In a week marked by several high-profile security cracks, the company was quick to assure its customers their credit card numbers were not at stake. "Please be assured that all customer details are held securely," the apology read. "Once again, please accept our sincere apologies, and our thanks for your understanding."

Last week eUniverse was hit by a hacker who claimed to have stolen more than 300,000 credit card numbers. In the US, a teenage hacker got into 27 separate different Internet service providers. And in the same week, Virgin.net called the police and even mailed out individual letters of apology to customers after email and dial-up access was disrupted by computer criminals.

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