Friday, April 28, 2006

E-mail safety

If it sounds too good to be true, then it's probably isn’t

Chain e-mailForwarding virus warnings and prize draw chain e-mails can get you more than you bargain for, but never what you intended or hoped for.

Most of these types of e-mail are scams or nuisances, some are even damaging and by forwarding them you are adding to the problem and becoming a perpetrator of e-mail abuse.

Basic safety and netiquette when forwarding e-mail

Don’t send or forward e-mails to people or add them to your “round robin” e-mail list without asking them if they want to be included. They may not want to hear every joke you think is funny or what your dog did last week and the e-mail address you have on file for them may be a work e-mail address, for instance, to which this type of personal e-mail could range from an annoyance to actually getting them into trouble.

If you must forward the information contained in an e-mail, unless the entire content is vital (an ongoing conversation for instance), always cut and paste the specific information you want to share, removing the multiple carriage returns that often appear “>>“ and other information, like e-mail addresses and names etc. (this goes for all online posting and instant and SMS messaging).

Never forward the contents of an e-mail from a friend or colleague without their prior permission, especially if it carries a disclaimer. Likewise, if you do not want others to forward the contents of your e-mails, tell them. Here is a general disclaimer you can add to your signature file or cut and paste into your e-mails:

This communication (including any attachments) is intended for the use of the intended recipient only and may contain information that is confidential, privileged or legally protected. Any unauthorized use or dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender by return e-mail message and delete all copies of the original communication. Thank you for your cooperation.

Just forwarding (or cutting and pasting) the entire content of a forwarded e-mail (especially one that has already been forwarded many times) means that the e-mail headers and therefore the e-mail addresses of everyone who has ever sent and/or received that particular e-mail will be visible. Nobody wants to have their e-mail address advertised and leaving this type of information intact puts the owners of those e-mail addresses at risk from spammers, online predators and a host of other cybercriminals and malcontents.

The most efficient way to prevent this from happening in the first place is to use the “Bcc” option in your e-mail client. The "Bcc" field (unlike the “To” and “Cc” fields) prevents multiple recipients of an e-mail seeing any of the other e-mail addresses the message was sent to - they only see their own.

Most security warnings sent by e-mail, such as virus alerts, are hoaxes. Unless you have received a security warning from a legitimate anti-virus organization (that you signed up for), you can be 99.9% positive that the information is fraudulent. You must check the information you receive before you decide whether or not to send it to someone else. Forwarding security alerts without verifying their accuracy can cause annoyance, panic, damage to others’ computers (some virus hoaxes erroneously instruct a user to delete vital files from their operating system or actually contain a virus themselves) and embarrassment - when you find out that the information you just e-mailed to everyone in your address book is a hoax.

When you receive an chain e-mail (even from a trusted friend):
  • Don’t forward it to anyone else.
  • Reply to the sender (if you know them) without including the contents of the original e-mail and politely ask them not to send you any more. If you do not know the sender, ignore the e-mail and report it as spam.
  • If you simply cannot bear not to forward a chain e-mail (and we understand that some people cannot ignore them), send it to us: and we will deal with it for you. If the chain e-mail tells you to send 10 copies to 10 different people, that’s fine - send us 10 copies.

However, please remember this. No chain e-mails are legitimate, credible companies do not conduct their marketing in such a haphazard fashion. Chain e-mails cannot bring you fortune or cause bad luck, they will not make you rich and you will never get that luxury holiday. They are lies, at best mischievous at worst (like virus hoaxes) designed to cause worry and disruption.

Finally, if you truly want to help disadvantaged children, endangered species or support another charity or movement, go to their Web site[s] and make a donation or sign up as a volunteer. You can use a search engine to find them, it takes about the same amount of time and effort to run a search as it does to forward a questionable e-mail. If you really want to tell a friend or loved one that you care about them, don’t do it with a junk e-mail that has been repeatedly forwarded. Tell them yourself, write a personal note - from your heart or, even better, tell them face to face.


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