Re: Has anyone been getting this email?

Subject: Re: Has anyone been getting this email?
From: "Richard G. Combs" <richard -dot- combs -at- voyanttech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 16:04:16 -0600

Thanks to Lin, Bruce, John L., John G., the other John G., and others for
all the interesting ideas about email security, Outlook, etc.

Several people said something like: "Drop Outlook and use XYZ. It [lets you
disable | won't run] [VB macros | Javascript | ActiveX controls]. And it's
free." Big whoop. ;-)

I'm stuck with Outlook at work (connecting to Exchange Server). At home, if
I ever finish my "resurrect old PC and put Linux on it" project, I may look
into Evolution. But I really like Outlook 2000. Honest.

For the record, the IE/Outlook combination is astonishingly configurable --
perhaps too much so, so most people are overwhelmed and don't bother. You
can have separate security settings for the Internet, intranet, a list of
trusted sites, and a list of restricted sites. For each of these "zones,"
there are about two dozen (!) parameters covering everything from ActiveX,
scripts, and the Java VM to downloads, cookies, and attachments. Typically,
each parameter can be set to enable/disable some action or prompt you before
performing it.

So, if you configure it right (and religiously install the weekly security
patches <g>), you can protect yourself pretty well from viruses and malware.

My HTML mail concern isn't so much script or code execution -- nothing runs
without my permission. It's more a privacy/spam issue, trying to prevent
spammers from confirming that the email address works. I don't know why I
bother; it seems to be a losing battle, and pressing the delete key has
become a significant part of my daily exercise routine.

I'm no expert, but it seems easy enough, using vanilla HTML (HREF, GET,
POST, etc.), to send a request to a server without the mail recipient
knowing it and without using any code, scripting, etc. The spammer just has
to automatically generate a unique value to include in that request for each
email address on his/her/its list. Then, when the page is rendered on your
end, the request to the spammer's server identifies your address, and they
can sell it to another 200 spammers.

Bruce wondered what value I see in HTML mail. Plain text certainly works
well for a list such as this and for most simple exchanges of email. But
formatting undeniably adds readability and usability to more complex
communications, such as newsletters with multiple stories/threads, subheads,
sidebars, lists, etc. After all, that's why we're not publishing our manuals
in 12-point Courier with underlined headings and dashes for bullets, isn't
it? ;-)


Richard G. Combs
Senior Technical Writer
Voyant Technologies, Inc.
richardDOTcombs AT voyanttechDOTcom
rgcombs AT freeDASHmarketDOTnet

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