Readers' Forum - May 2006

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. I'll try and get an answer to you by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may also turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).

Arne writes: Just a quick question of no great importance. I thought e-mail addresses had to be exact to be delivered. I use a yahoo address (aah_knee). I am happy to not get much spam but some of it is to an address that is not that close to mine, (eg aah_free_at_last_ii). Why does it come to me? Thanks! Arne.

Hi Arne,

What spammers tend to do is send the same spam to a whole list of e-mail addresses. Typically, they'll put one address in the "To" field and a whole lot more addresses in the CC (carbon copy) or BCC (blind carbon copy) fields. If your address was in the BCC field, it won't display. Instead, the e-mail will turn up in your mailbox looking like it has been sent only to the e-mail address in the "To" field.

You're right in that an e-mail address has to be exact in order for the e-mail to be delivered. It's just that the e-mail has been copied to your e-mail address in a hidden way. Often these lists of addresses that spammers use are in alphabetical order. You must be included in a group that starts with "aah" which makes it look like an e-mail might have been delivered to you wrongly just because your e-mail address is close to the one that appears in the "to" field.

I hope that helps make some sense of it.

--

Along similar lines, Sue writes: Hello Rob, For weeks we have been getting all these emails about shares and garbage. They are coming through on an e-mail address that is not ours. I was wondering if you can stop them coming through. I put a block on them every time they come through but they seem to be changing their email address by a few letters each time. They are so frustrating. At first I was sending them back but they come unknown.

Hi Sue, Yeah, these sorts of spam e-mails are a real nuisance, and though the Actrix filters catch the vast majority of stuff, there will always be ones like these that sneak through. They're being sent to an address other than yours, but your e-mail address has been included in the BCC field (along with many others, no doubt) and that's why they're turning up for you though addressed to someone else.

Putting blocks on them isn't an easy solution. As you mention, they change the sending address slightly each time to avoid blocks, and if we were to put a comprehensive block on them, we'd end up blocking someone's legitimate e-mails somewhere along the line. That's why spam filters work best on the basis of content.

The Actrix spam filters are designed to learn, and you can report spam to them by sending the spam e-mails (as attachments) to spamtrap@actrix.co.nz, with the word SPAM in the subject line. This will help the filters learn what customers consider to be spam, and over time will lead to even better filtering. Please be aware, though, that this may not automatically result in the annoying e-mails being blocked, but it will help in the long run.

By the same token, if you're finding the occasional legitimate e-mail ending up in your spam folder, you can send that as an attachment to spamtrap@actrix.co.nz, with the words NOT SPAM in the subject line.

To forward an e-mail as an attachment in Outlook Express, right-click on the e-mail in your inbox and then left-click on "Forward as attachment."

--

Peter writes: Hi Rob and crew, Had a problem with downloading attachments on Outlook Express satisfactorily solved by one of your operatives this morning. Thanks very much. It all hinged on removing the tick in the box controlling opening files which "potentially could contain a virus".

My query is:- what criteria are applied to distinguish between attachments which have such a potential and those that do not? And where does Actrix's filtering system fit into this scheme of things? Why should a copy of a set of Rules of an international Society be suspect?

Since to date there has been only one sole sender to activate this bar on my system, should I perhaps re-tick the appropriate box once I have downloaded his attachments (which I know independently to be safe) in order to restore the protection level until I have a further communication from him when I can de-tick it again to see just what he has to say?

Any information on this and related topics would be most appreciated. Regards Peter

Hi Pete,

It's sometimes hard to explain fully the way that Microsoft thinks, but I'll shed what light I can. A few years ago, Outlook and Outlook Express suffered from a vulnerability that allowed some malicious code in e-mails to run automatically as soon as the e-mail was viewed in the preview pane (i.e. you didn't even have to click an attachment). That flaw has been fixed in later versions, but that was about the time this new feature started turning up as the default.

It's not a bad idea, but in general, the tendency has been for this setting to be a little over-zealous, and just about anything attached has been blocked, including simple jpeg and gif images. Word documents are often blocked by this setting too, as they can potentially include embedded viruses. Perhaps that's why your set of rules were blocked.

Actrix's filters will check any attachments for viruses as well as the e-mails themselves, but of course, your Outlook Express program doesn't know that. The filters on our servers do catch just about everything malicious, but it is possible that a new virus could make it through before the filters know about it, which is why you should still have your own virus protection on your machine, and which is another reason Outlook Express's default blocking setting could be justified as a good thing.

My advice regarding this setting, though, is to leave it unticked. But this is only provided you have your own anti-virus software that you keep up-to-date, and that you also have the latest versions of Outlook Express installed with all the latest patches available from http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com. If you have all that in order, then you could probably safely do without the nuisance that this setting can sometimes be. However, now that you know about it, and can easily turn it on and off, there's no harm in that either. Outlook express will deliver to you an attachment that it blocked, once you remove the tick, so you're not in danger of losing anything.

--

Teresa writes: Hi there Rob, Just a little funny thing..............you know when you pass on an internet address and you hate to have to say "www" well this is a classic.

I was speaking to my sister who was just getting the hang of the computer world and I was passing on an internet address and I said "now write this down, 'google.co.nz' and oh, don't forget the www at the beginning".

Then she replied "now..... is that spelt d-u-b d-u-b d-u-b ?? (No, she's not a blonde!!) Cheers, Teresa

Excellent, thanks Teresa. I think we can all remember those first days on the web and how confusing it seemed at first. Please assure your sister that we're only laughing at her in a good-natured understanding way. -Ed.