Keep Email from Bailing on You
Email is an important part of communicating in today's world. Find out how to keep your communication flowing.
Email has become a prevalent aspect of modern life, as pervasive and invasive as the telephone. It is one of the main reasons for many people even owning a computer. Because email has become such an important medium for communication, it can bring office and personal lives screeching to a halt when it is not working. Much time and headache can be saved, though, if one knows enough about email to keep it up and running.
There are two methods by which people send and receive email: email portals and email applications. An email portal is a web page where your email service is hosted, and a well-known example is hotmail. If one has connection to the Internet, then there will be no problems using an email portal, provided that all is well on their end.
Email applications, on the other hand, reside on the home computer. One will have an email account (often provided by the ISP), and they want their email application communicate with the email servers hosting their account. A well-known example of an email application is Outlook Express. Because the “mailbox” is on the home computer, you don't have to wait in line at the “post office” to get your email (email portals can be slow or inaccessible at peak usage). However, there is also a lot more that can go wrong when using an email application.
For example, a friend emails you a nifty screen saver. You get the email with the attachment in Outlook Express, but you can't save the file to your desktop; the “save as” option is grayed out when you right-click on the paper clip icon that indicates the attachment. What went wrong?
This is a simple matter of a setting in Outlook Express. In the Tools menu, there is an Options item. Open this, and a multi-tabbed window appears. One of these is the Security tab, and within its contents, there is a Virus Protection section. Here, with a check in the box, is the setting “Do not allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially be a virus” (this is by design in Outlook Express since the release of Internet Explorer 6 SP1, and the list of file types blocked by default can be read at:
Un-check this setting, and you are finally able to save your friends screen saver.
There is very good reasoning behind blocking certain file types. As much as email has pervaded our daily lives, the hackers have invaded email even more, and it is as vital a tool to them as any in their hack-shack.
As I write this, the number-one virus threat reported worldwide (as counted by TrendMicro) is the Netsky.P Worm. Here's an excerpt from what TrendMicro has to say about this worm:
“This NETSKY variant propagates via email using its own Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) engine. It exploits a known vulnerability affecting Internet Explorer involving incorrect MIME Header (MS01-020), which allows the automatic execution of email attachments while an email is read or previewed.”
So if you receive an email from a machine infected with WORM_NETSKY.P and you open that email in the preview of Outlook Express, your machine is infected! You don't even have to open the attachment.
The only adequate defense against this sort of threat is to patch the vulnerability. It is a little-known fact that Outlook Express is an integrated portion of Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer's vulnerabilities are those of Outlook Express, so one key to making sure email stays up in your home is to keep your computer up to date.
Another key is knowing your account information. There are three main pieces of information that an email application must have: the email address, the name of the outgoing mail server, and the name of the incoming mail server. Simply, the email application needs to know what mailbox to check, which server to send mail to, and which server to download mail from.
The first is usually well known, but the latter two are often obscure. The outgoing mail server will always be of type SMTP, but the incoming mail server will be of type POP3, IMAP, or HTTP (often, the incoming and outgoing mail servers will have the same name). The names and types of the two servers are usually provided by the ISP or other entity that is hosting the email service. Whenever a new profile is made in an email application, these three pieces of information will be requested, and they must be correct before the application will begin sending and receiving email.
Knowing how to use the email application and keeping your computer up to date can help ensure that you remain in the modern world of email. One last thing to remember about email is that there is more than one way to get it. If you have an email that absolutely must get out, and your email application is misbehaving, consider an email portal. It only takes minutes to sign up for and begin using a hotmail account.