Readers' Forum - August 2003

by Rob Zorn
from the August 2003 Newsletter

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If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "forum" in the subject line and check back next month to see the results! By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free.

Hi Rob, I thought an excellent topic for one of your monthly newsletters would be to tell people how to forward e-mails properly, i.e. how to tidy them before they send them on, and how they should use BCC instead of CC when sending on jokes etc which stops your and your friends' names being sent around the world for some unscrupulous person to give to a Spammer. We are making it too easy for these Spammers if we don't learn how to protect ourselves. Regards Teresa

Hi Teresa, Thanks for what is really a very good idea. I've written on the reasons for using the BCC field before (see Using the CC and BCC Fields in E-mail), but I haven't really touched on it with regards to Spam protection. In the article I just mentioned I explain the difference between the CC field (Carbon Copy) and the BCC field (Blind Carbon Copy), and suggest some reasons you may wish to use either. You can click to read that article if you're interested, but for now we'll just touch on what the BCC field is, how to turn it on in Outlook Express and in Outlook, and why we should usually use if for the forwarding on of jokes and other entertaining or informative e-mails we think all our friends will also benefit from.

The BCC field is useful for just the reasons that Teresa mentions. Imagine you send a funny e-mail to 25 people and you put all those people in the CC field of the e-mail. Those people forward the e-mail on to 25 more people (and all the previous addresses it was sent to remain intact in the e-mail itself). We now have an e-mail travelling around the net that contains 50 valid and readable e-mail addresses. How many more forwards before 100s of e-mail addresses can be gleaned from this e-mail for use by a Spammer? The answer: not long!

If you want to copy lots of people in on an e-mail it is much better to use the BCC field. The BCC field excludes all other e-mail addresses from being listed with the e-mail, except for the one receiving it (unless these e-mail addresses are already included in the text of the e-mail itself). People who operate mailing lists often use this method. They leave the To: and CC: fields empty, and just put all the addresses they want to send to into the BCC: field. The people on the list receive an e-mail that is addressed to "Undisclosed Recipients." If you receive such an e-mail, the chances are you have been put into the BCC field.

By using this method, you ensure that e-mails circulating around the world don't have all those e-mail addresses in them for Spammers to harvest. Of course, this has other benefits as well. How often do we receive a funny or interesting e-mail, and we have to scroll down past screeds and screeds of e-mail addresses from previous forwards before we get to the bit that we're supposed to want to see? It's probably good practice on the whole, when forwarding e-mail, to remove the original sender's details unless there is a good reason to keep them included.

Outlook Express and Outlook do not have the BCC field showing by default, but with each program it is easy to turn this feature on.  To get the BCC field to appear in Outlook Express, open up a fresh new e-mail. Click the View Menu and then click a tick next to "All Headers" in the drop down menu. From now on all your new e-mails will have the BCC field included by default. To stop the BCC field from appearing, just click the View menu again in a freshly opened e-mail and click to remove the tick. In Outlook, you can turn the BCC field on by opening a fresh e-mail, clicking View, and then BCC Field. Be mindful that Outlook sometimes contracts its drop down menus hiding features that are rarely accessed, so you may have first to click the expansion arrows to get the whole drop down menu to appear.