Outlook Express Preview Pane

Welcome back to another exciting and fun filled edition of The Weekly Geek!

Over the next few weeks we are going to go over the basics of securing Microsoft Outlook Express to help reduce the chance of catching a virus, worm or other nasty thing.

In all versions of Outlook Express (OE) comes with the Preview Pane turned on. The preview pane is located in the bottom half of the screen when you open OE and it shows you part of the e-mail. Basically what happens is that OE opens the message (in full or in part) and displays it for you just as if you had double-clicked on the message to open it. Initially this was a good idea, it allowed you to quickly see the contents of a message.

The problem is that e-mails now contain code, normally HTML but not always. This is what allows fancy backgrounds, colored and fancy text and those cute little pictures of a cat waving at you. In order for those items to run code is executed (that is a fancy word for activated).

Now the problem lies in exploits no, not the adventures of Star Trek – Voyager but holes in software programs. These holes are not really intentional and are fixed through software updates of the various programs.

When OE opens part (or all) of the message for you to preview, the code is executed and a malicious program can be run, at this point several things can occur, your computer could be infected with a worm or virus, a “bot” (short for robot – this takes over your computer and makes it a zombie in the classic movie sense doing the will of the hacker) could be placed in your computer so that it could be remotely controlled any of several ways, or a “dialer” could be installed.

Dialers will call foreign numbers of illegitimate phone companies and your local phone company will charge you $3000 for last months calls to Zimbabwe and trust me, they do not take your side or care if you did not intend to make the calls and yes they know these are illegitimate phone numbers but in all honesty they don’t care, that is a discussion for another time.

To turn off the preview pane in OE go to the Menu bar (the text bar across the top of the screen with File, Edit on it) and click one time on View.

On the drop down menu that appears select the word Layout. This will bring a new screen onto your monitor. This window has two sections.

In the lower half under Preview Pane remove the check mark next to Show Preview Pane by clicking one time on it. Select OK to exit and there you have it.

Next week we will go into more on securing OE for your safety and when that is complete we will start going through other e-mail programs and how to do the same, so stay tuned in for another exciting and fun filled adventure of The Weekly Geek, until then have a Zombie less week.