E-Mail types

Welcome back to the always exciting and fun filled adventures of The Weekly Geek. Last week we began discussing how to secure Outlook Express by turning off the Preview Pane. This week I want to go over e-mail formats, what you should use, what you should request and why.

The three most popular types of e-mail are Plain Text, HTML, and Outlook Rich Text.

Plain text is just that, plain old type on a white background. First of all, normally when you sign up for an e-mail newsletter toward the end of the form you are filling out you are asked what format you want to receive it in. I strongly suggest Plain Text. This is also the method I prefer for sending e-mails. Plain Text contains no hidden code therefore no exploits (holes in software) can be used. Also, cookies cannot be installed this way.

For those of you who do not know or need a reminder, a cookie is a small text file that is used to identify you to a web site. Over the years these have been turned into tracking mechanism that also record where you have visited, and in a worse case, what you typed in (like user names and passwords on your banking site). The good cookies will personalize your visit to a site, “Welcome Back Weekly Geek”, bad cookies in the mildest form send where you have been on the internet to advertising agencies (those ads on web sites, pop up and pop under ads) to “customize you advertising experience”. Basically if you go to a lot of golfing sites then the marketing company will have golfing ads of various sorts appear, if you go to other sites then that type should appear.

My issue is that:

  1. If I wanted to be stalked I would become famous.
  2. Minor children should not be tracked– isn’t there laws against “tracking” children? Don’t we usually call these people “predators”?
  3. Hidden and “understood” agreements of tracking are still direct invasions of privacy and well before 1776 my family and others chose rebellion and loss of personal property and life over invasion of our privacy (along with the belief of “God given rights”).

Plain Text e-mails also cannot contain hidden malicious code, namely virus, worms or trojans thus the point of this article, reduced threats to you and your computer.

HTML e-mails contain fancy colors, ads (yes, within e-mails) cookies and in bad cases exploits to holes in your e-mail program, internet browser or operating system. These e-mails can be the waving cat sent by Cousin Betty to newsletters sent by your favorite organization. HTML allows what the IT industry calls eye candy- that what is pleasing to the eyes. The benefits of HTML are few but worth mentioning. One is direct links to web resources. Say you get an ad from Tiger Direct, if you click on the item for sale you are taken straight to their web site and the page that item is on. Another benefit for the end user is…ummm…errrr well you get direct links like I mentioned above. The benefit to the newsletter senders is the ability to attract and keep you with eye candy, install advertisers cookies and thus make money off of you, the ability to install their own cookie to see who else’s newsletter you read.

Malcontents, and vicious people can install viruses, worms and trojans as well as have programs automatically load (yes, just by opening an HTML e-mail) they can turn you computer into a “bot” or “zombie” for future attacks against other computers, which by the way congress is trying to pass laws to make you liable for, just like auto insurance you should have some security and “financial responsibility” to own and operate a PC, we computer types call it “an updated anti-virus and firewall”.

The third type of e-mail you can use (depending on which e-mail client you use) is Outlook Rich Text which you can probably guess is for Microsoft products, I do not suggest using this externally. If you have all Microsoft e-mail clients at your place of business then using it internally will allow the use of fancy add-ons that plain text does not allow without the totally vulnerability that HTML allows. If you try to send an e-mail in Outlook Rich Text there is no guarantee that the recipient has any version of Outlook and thus may not receive the e-mail or it may not be in the format you sent it.