Sunday, April 17, 2005

Four Fixes for the Most Annoying E-Mail

Existing tools not protecting your inbox? Time to quit messing around.

HOME OFFICE looks different, right? Don't worry, it's still me. You probably noticed that I spend most of my time kvetching about computers. So I'm now writing about PC annoyances, those thorny problems that waste your time, hose your PC, and make you want to switch to a Mac (heaven forbid).

In this column, I'm tackling tricky unwanted e-mail, which has turned my day into a regular battle with bogus, virus-infested messages from unknown dirtballs and perky notes from legit companies who think I want their junk.

The Annoyance: I get email messages with viruses and worms attached. What's weird is, they're from me. Friends-and even strangers-are complaining about getting them from me, too.

The Fix: Relax-you're not to blame. You didn't send mail to yourself, and that's what makes the thing so confusing. A buddy of yours-or even someone who knows your buddy-is infected with a worm, or maybe a Trojan horse.

A worm attempts to send an infected message to everyone in the address book of some e-mail programs, primarily Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. Some worms also look in a browser's temporary cache for addresses from Web-based e-mail services. But other worms (and virus variants) take it a step further. Say you're listed in the address book of another person's infected PC. The worm takes your address from there (or from the cache) and "spoofs" the header of the infected message so it appears to be coming from you. That's how you get e-mail that seems to be coming from yourself.

I gave up trying to decipher the header to track down and warn the real victim. Though I don't have a cure, here are three steps for managing the problem.

* Protect your inbox: The first step is to create a filter that sends such e-mail directly to the trash, so you can get back to work. The filter doesn't need to be complicated-it just has to look for any e-mail that shows your address in the From field and carries an attachment.

* Stop spamming yourself and your friends: Use ZoneAlarm Pro's Outbound MailSafe feature. It blocks outgoing mail if any of three viruslike conditions are met: Too many messages are sent at once, a message has too many recipients, or the sender of the e-mail isn't you.

* Prevent future problems for free: You know that I use an antivirus program to prevent getting infected. The one I like, Grisoft's AVG, is free. Now let others, especially your novice friends, know how critical it is that they use antivirus software.


The Annoyance: I get e-mail from a handful of companies because I once ordered from them. Even though I've asked to be removed from their lists, I still get e-mail. Isn't there a way to make them stop?

The Fix: Instead of hassling with each company's opt-out mechanism, I blast it with my ISP's blacklist.

Most ISPs and Web-mail services offer a similar blacklist feature-for example, MSN hotmail calls it Block Senders and AOL has Block Unwanted Mail. Be careful, though, because some ISPs limit the number of entries (Yahoo Mail, for instance, allows 100 addresses in its Blocked Addresses blacklist). So don't waste it by adding runof-the-mill spam, such as Viagra and Rolex come-ons. By the way, this trick also works for e-mail lists that you've subscribed to and no longer want, or for people you're tired of hearing from.

Reference: PC World

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