Internet security, e-mail, spam, etc.

 

Here are some pointers on Internet security.  For more information, read on.

  1. If you receive an unsolicited attachment (something you did not specifically ask for) such as a joke, photograph, or program, DO NOT open it.  Delete it immediately!  Follow this rule:
    If you didn't ask for it, don't open it. 

     

  2. Never respond to spam.

  3. Never put multiple recipients in the TO or CC lines in your e-mails.  See below on how to safely e-mail groups of people.

  4. Refrain from sending unsolicited attachments.  Call or send a note to the recipient asking if they'd be interested in whatever you want to send.  It's only polite.

  5. If you are unsure of a web site or correspondent, use one of the free e-mail sites for all of your correspondence with the unknown recipient. (Hotmail is one source) 

  6. Don't use the "E-mail this site to a friend" come-ons.  See below for consequences.

  7. Don't forward virus alerts or petitions.

  8. Never give out your passwords.  When creating your passwords, use obscure word and numbers.  For example, don't use your cat's or dog's name.  These are pretty easy to guess.  Instead, use the name plus a number like your mother's birthday.  A password like phydeaux is no good;  phydeaux31 is better.

 

Q: What's wrong with using the "E-mail this site/photo/comic/etc. to a friend" feature found on many sites?
A: The problem with using this very convenient feature is that your friend's e-mail address is kept by the site.  Your friend will soon receive unsolicited advertisements and offers.  In other words, you've just given your friend's e-mail address to a spammer!  Even legitimate sites will start sending notices and other unsolicited stuff to your friend.  Rather than give them your friend's address, send your friend a link via your e-mail.  For example, use your e-mail account and write, "Hey, check out www.ReallyCoolSite.com."  This gives your friend the option of visiting the site when he or she wants to and keeps his or her address private.

 

Q: What's wrong with forwarding virus alerts and petitions?
A: 99% of them are hoaxes.  And people who forward these things often do a mass mailing using the TO: or CC: lines thus exposing the addresses of their friends to everybody else.  People have been known to use the addresses for their own unrelated purposes or even sell them to spammers.

If you cannot resist forwarding a message that appears important, save yourself some embarrassment and check out the message first.  There are two great sites to check the validity of the virus alerts and petitions:
For virus hoaxes, http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html
For petitions and stories about pesticides on soda cans, missing kidneys, Tommy Hilflinger, etc., http://urbanlegends.about.com/

 

 Q: I'm receiving notices that messages I've sent are infected with a virus but I never sent the message nor do I know the recipient.  What gives?
A: The latest viruses (SoBig, BugBear, etc.) mask the real sender as part of their nefarious scheme to take over the world.  For example, say John Ashcroft's computer becomes infected.  The virus randomly selects two people out of the Outlook address book, say you and Saddam Hussein.  The virus sends an infected message to Saddam (I think the medical people call this a vector) and makes it look like you are the sender.  Saddam's anti-virus software detects the virus and sends a nasty note to you indicating that you are propagating viruses.  But like Saddam and weapons of mass destruction, the accusation is without merit. 

 

Q: How do I get rid of spam?
A: Unfortunately, this is the way of the Internet.  When you communicate via e-mail or place your e-mail address on a web site, purveyors of spam search for and retrieve your address.  They use software known as bots.  The bots search web sites for e-mail addresses.  If you look at the source of this web site, you'll note a Java script that breaks up the address so their bots can't find the address.

 

Even legitimate sites can leak your e-mail address.  Do not use your business e-mail in news groups.  Use extreme caution with listserves.  Use Gmail or some other free e-mail service.  You must be careful where you send or post your address.

 

Another source that spammers mine are forwarded messages.  For example, suppose I had a typically lame joke or image to send to you and a gazillion of my close personal friends.  I'd put them all into the TO line or CC line of my e-mail program and send the joke.  Unfortunately, either one of my friends or one of his or her friends to which he or she forwards the joke, sells my name to a spammer.  Bingo, adult content or college diplomas start arriving in my e-mail.

The moral of the story is to use the BCC line rather than the TO line or CC line to prevent your list from being read by the wrong person.  When using Microsoft's Outlook, you'll find the BCC function under View when you compose an e-mail message.  You don't have to put anything in the TO line.

 

Now the question is, "How do I get rid of the stuff when I'm already on the list?"  You really can't other than to change your e-mail address.  Outlook has a nice filter system that will automatically route spam to the garbage.  You still receive it but you won't have it cluttering up your In box.  But be careful as the filter may pick up valid messages with dollar signs or other innocuous characters or words in the subject line.  You'll have to review the detritus just to make sure.  

Q: Should I write to the spammers and tell them to lose my address?
A: Never, never, never respond to spam to remove your name no matter how many promises they make.  The offer to remove your name is a ruse to get you to confirm that your e-mail address is valid.

Q: Where can I find out more about spam and how to stop it?
A: There is a cool site called SpamCop.  You can use their free service to determine the source of the spam and e-mail the owner of the system that sent the spam.  The owner of the mail server will typically cancel the guy's account.  The slime will just slither to another server but at least one more server will be unavailable to their ilk.  When using the SpamCop service, you should set up a free e-mail account (Hotmail is one source) to avoid additional spam.  Also, use the free e-mail account when corresponding with questionable folks.

Q: I have too many passwords and PINs to remember.  Should I make them all the same?
A: Not a good idea.  Instead, use one of the neat programs that allow you to save all of them in a secure place on your computer or phone.  Okay, so you won't get rid of all your passwords; but you'll only have to remember one.

Microsoft, Windows, Windows NT, Windows95, Windows98, Windows XP and other names of Microsoft products referenced herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of the Microsoft Corporation.
Quickbooks and other names of Intuit products referenced herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of the Intuit Corporation.
Spam and other names of Hormel products referenced herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of the Hormel Foods Corporation.