Email Musings: Part 2
by Stephen M. Pribut, D.P.M., F.A.C.F.A.S.
Last month in Part 1 of email musings we reviewed the netiquette of email, style, mailing lists and troubleshooting. This month our email musings bring us to the issues of security, finding email addresses and free email. We'll jump right into the security issues.
Unencrypted email is not necessarily private. This kind of email should be considered as secret as a postcard sent through the post office. Email can be intercepted en route and is easily read by systems administrators. Consequently, it is not a good idea to transmit your credit card information using regular email. Email security is enhanced with encryption which is vital for the secure and private transmission of important information. Recently, encryption has been a controversial topic. Arguments regarding its use have centered around First and Fourth Amendment rights. It is also an important subject to consider in conjunction with the protection of online medical records. The N.I.H. is funding over $60 million worth of projects to devise secure systems for online storage of medical records. Currently domestic encryption of any strength is permitted. However, proposals have been made by the executive branch of government to force individual computer users to register all of their programs that use encoding in any way. This would include games, word processing programs, check book programs and many of the programs that sit on your hard disk. Strong encryption is included in several email programs including the domestic version of Eudora 3 Pro which includes PGP (Pretty Good Protection) encryption software. More information on PGP may be found at www.pgp.com.
Rumors of email viruses abound on the net. You have probably received messages warning not to open email that has a particular subject header. For the record: the text of email can not contain a virus and it is impossible that reading the text of an email message could damage any of your files. However, attachments can be destructive. Beware of attachments arriving from unfamiliar sources. Macro viruses such as the Word Macro Virus have been emailed. These rely on the programming macro language of the application to harm your files. Erasing, copying and replicating itself are all possible with attached word processing or spread sheet files.
While many think that "spam" is an exotic meat, on the Internet, it refers to unsolicited electronic mail. Bulk electronic mailers are a major annoyance and inconvenience to many Internet aficionados. All too often, spam has an empty subject header and the email return address given is incorrect. Offers to remove your address from a list, all too often just verify that you exist and makes your address more valuable to spammers. This activity has engendered the introduction of several bills into Congress to deal with this problem. In some cases the bills liken unsolicited email to unsolicited faxes which are illegal. The bills include clauses that would require all junk email to have the word Advertisement in the subject field. This would allow for easy filtering. Another clause in some of the bills requires a legitimate email address to identify who is sending the unsolicited email.
Most deluxe email packages have the ability to filter messages. This allows you to quickly manage and sort large amounts of mail. If you are on a few mailing lists you might receive more than 100 email messages per day. Many of these messages do not need immediate attention. By using a filter you can sort email by sender or topic. You can change the priority, add a color highlight to the subject and even play music when a message arrives from your favorite correspondents. I use it to sort Podiatry related lists, programming lists, chess and have the program whistle when mail arrives from a particular friend. This presorting makes it much easier to read and prioritize the mail that remains in my in box. One of the benefits of a filter is that it can be used to remove spam. You may either toss suspected spam straight into the trash bin or filter it to a spam file to double check later. Email with a high suspicion of being spam include that with "$$" or "free" in the subject header. You can add other filters as needed.
For those of you with multiple email accounts, many of todays software packages allow you to check all of them. Otherwise, you may need to forward the email to your most often used account. A file on your sever labeled ".forward" can do this. Another useful server program is "vacation". While you are on vacation this program will automatically notify those writing you when you will return and save your mail for you.
Who, What, Where
There are several places that you can use to find email addresses. Four11 (www.four11.com/) is one of the Internet's largest directories to email addresses. Four11 has a PGP key server feature and home page services. WhoWhere (www.whowhere.com) is another place to search for email addresses, phone numbers, business addresses and people and businesses on the Net. You can also get information on your congressional representatives at Thomas available on the web at: http://thomas.loc.gov/.
There are a number of providers that will allow you to set up an email account for free. Some of these offer special anti-spam filtering services. One of the most popular services are those available at www.hotmail.com. They claim to have over six million subscribers.
For those individuals with only email access to the Internet, don't feel left out. Email can be used to search databases, find and retrieve files, send free faxes, and even to peruse web pages. The secrets to these tricks are found on Bob Rankin's home page at http://spice.mhv.net/~bobrankin/ .
Hopefully, you have learned the proper use and style of email and plan to be careful in what you say and how you say it. Remember it isn't just important to think before you speak but to also think before you write.
Dr. Pribut hosts a popular web page at: https://www.drpribut.com/sports/spsport.html . Send comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the Web:
A search at yahoo will yield considerable information on anonymous remailers and privacy issues. Many of the remailers are complicated to use. One very simple, but insecure one is available at: http://www.myemail.net/ . Here you can send email that the return address can not be read.
Another anon re-mailer is https://www.replay.com/remailer/anon.html
The Internet help desk has a special page on how to trouble shoot undeliverable mail. It uses finger, ping and a variety of other internet services to help discover why your mail could not be delivered. http://w3.one.net/~alward/etable.html
FAQs on e-mail: http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/bngusenet/comp/mail/misc/top.html