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Communication Division
Email Safety - Basic Tips
E-mail safety tips on:

Basic e-mail safety tips:

  • Change your password often and keep it in a safe place
  • Don’t share the password with anyone.
  • Don’t open any attachments from anyone unless they are run through an anti-virus program.
  • Log off when done.
  • Don’t reply to spam, harassing, or offensive e-mail or forward chain e-mail letters.
  • Use common sense and keep personal information personal.
  • Delete all e-mails, unread, from people you don’t know
  • Don’t be caught by the spammers’ favorite trick, “Remember me?” 


:: Chain Letters

Forwarding virus warnings and prize draw chain e-mails can get you more than you bargain for, but never what you intended or hoped for.

Most of these types of e-mail are scams or nuisances, some are even damaging and by forwarding them you are adding to the problem and becoming a perpetrator of e-mail abuse.

Basic safety and netiquette when forwarding e-mail

Don’t send or forward e-mails to people or add them to your “round robin” e-mail list without asking them if they want to be included. They may not want to hear every joke you think is funny or what your dog did last week and the e-mail address you have on file for them may be a work e-mail address, for instance, to which this type of personal e-mail could range from an annoyance to actually getting them into trouble.

If you must forward the information contained in an e-mail, unless the entire content is vital (an ongoing conversation for instance), always cut and paste the specific information you want to share, removing the multiple carriage returns that often appear “>>“ and other information, like e-mail addresses and names etc. (this goes for all online posting and instant and SMS messaging).

Never forward the contents of an e-mail from a friend or colleague without their prior permission, especially if it carries a disclaimer. Likewise, if you do not want others to forward the contents of your e-mails, tell them. Here is a general disclaimer you can add to your signature file or cut and paste into your e-mails:

This communication (including any attachments) is intended for the use of the intended recipient only and may contain information that is confidential, privileged or legally protected. Any unauthorized use or dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately notify the sender by return e-mail message and delete all copies of the original communication. Thank you for your cooperation.

Just forwarding (or cutting and pasting) the entire content of a forwarded e-mail (especially one that has already been forwarded many times) means that the e-mail headers and therefore the e-mail addresses of everyone who has ever sent and/or received that particular e-mail will be visible. Nobody wants to have their e-mail address advertised and leaving this type of information intact puts the owners of those e-mail addresses at risk from spammers, online predators and a host of other cybercriminals and malcontents.

The most efficient way to prevent this from happening in the first place is to use the “Bcc” option in your e-mail client. The "Bcc" field (unlike the “To” and “Cc” fields) prevents multiple recipients of an e-mail seeing any of the other e-mail addresses the message was sent to - they only see their own.

Most security warnings sent by e-mail, such as virus alerts, are hoaxes. Unless you have received a security warning from a legitimate anti-virus organization (that you signed up for), you can be 99.9% positive that the information is fraudulent. You must check the information you receive before you decide whether or not to send it to someone else. Forwarding security alerts without verifying their accuracy can cause annoyance, panic, damage to others’ computers (some virus hoaxes erroneously instruct a user to delete vital files from their operating system or actually contain a virus themselves) and embarrassment - when you find out that the information you just e-mailed to everyone in your address book is a hoax.

When you receive an chain e-mail (even from a trusted friend):
  • Don’t forward it to anyone else.
  • Reply to the sender (if you know them) without including the contents of the original e-mail and politely ask them not to send you any more. If you do not know the sender, ignore the e-mail and report it as spam.
  • If you simply cannot bear not to forward a chain e-mail (and we understand that some people cannot ignore them), send it to us: chainmail@wiredsafety.org and we will deal with it for you. If the chain e-mail tells you to send 10 copies to 10 different people, that’s fine - send us 10 copies.

However, please remember this. No chain e-mails are legitimate, credible companies do not conduct their marketing in such a haphazard fashion. Chain e-mails cannot bring you fortune or cause bad luck, they will not make you rich and you will never get that luxury holiday. They are lies, at best mischievous at worst (like virus hoaxes) designed to cause worry and disruption.

Finally, if you truly want to help disadvantaged children, endangered species or support another charity or movement, go to their Web site[s] and make a donation or sign up as a volunteer. You can use a search engine to find them, it takes about the same amount of time and effort to run a search as it does to forward a questionable e-mail. If you really want to tell a friend or loved one that you care about them, don’t do it with a junk e-mail that has been repeatedly forwarded. Tell them yourself, write a personal note - from your heart or, even better, tell them face to face.

:: Hoaxes and Rumours

Computer virus rumors are common cyberhoaxes

E-mail hoax messages warning about some new virus hazard arrive in our mailbox daily. While some are true, many are not. A lot of people are fooled, though.

What Can You Do About It?

Luckily, there are several great resources you can refer to when you get your next e-mail announcing Armageddon, especially e-mails announcing the latest viruses. These sites will help you decide what to pay careful attention to and which to just ignore.

Before you forward any e-mail proclaiming the latest virus, check it out. It's good Netiquette and a good way to preserve your credibility. And if you know someone who's rumormongering in cyberspace, tell them, too. (Otherwise, ignore anything they send you, or tell them to remove you from their rumor mailing list).

:: Phishing

Phishing is an online scam used to commit identity theft. A fraudulent, but official-looking e-mail is sent to a user in an attempt to con that user into divulging personal and/or private information, which is then used for identity theft.

How phishing operates

Phishers spam huge numbers of users with a seemingly credible e-mail that instructs the user to visit a Web site (also fraudulent) where they are prompted to enter or update their personal or private information (such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers). Phishers also use pop-ups to try and scam users into entering sensitive information.

What actually happens, to the trusting users who submit this information in response to a Phishing attempt, is that identity thieves steal the user’s information and their accounts are emptied.

Phishing attempts are extremely sophisticated and it can be extremely difficult to tell if the e-mail or Web site is real. However, no credible organization (like your bank, credit card company or social security office) will ever ask you for those kinds of details in an e-mail.

Phishing got its name from the idea that bait is cast out among many fish, some of which actually bite, become hooked and are reeled in.

:: Scams and Fraud

One of our most important tasks is helping those who have been victimized online by scams, fraud and e-mail. ISPs tend to underplay the trauma, and real risks posed by e-mail scams, Internet scams and Internet fraud.

As a crime, Internet fraud is also often under-reported.

The Internet is a perfect medium for scams and frauds and hoaxes

It's inexpensive and people can communicate anonymously. What better way to take advantage of others? In addition, many users are new to the Internet, and easily conned. But the old adage, "When something seems to good to be true, it isn't true" should apply even more online than in real life.

:: Spoofing

Spoofing is the term for falsified e-mail addresses that appear to come from a sender when in fact, the message is really being sent by a spammer. They can be difficult to spot and cause many problems, both for recipients and spoofed e-mail address owners.

How spoofing operates

E-mail spoofing can assume a variety of forms, but basically, a spoofed e-mail has appears to have been sent from one source when it actually was sent from another source entirely. Phishing attempts and e-mail worms typically use spoofed e-mail addresses to trick users into believing that an e-mail has come from a trusted source. The actual sender effectively hides behind a user's address by falsifying its routing information, making it appears to come from the legitimate user's account.

However, any replies to a spoofed e-mail go directly to the legitimate e-mail account (not the sender who has spoofed the e-mail) causing embarassment and inconvenience. The legitimate user can find their e-mail Inbox bombarded with viruses, bounced e-mail, flame e-mails and in some cases can have their account suspended or shut down by their Internet Service Provider (ISP) for violating its anti-spam policy.

Meanwhile, the sender avoids all of these consequences, leaving innocent users to deal with the aftermath.

:: Computer viruses, worms and Trojans

Computer viruses are self-executing, replicating programs written specifically to change the way a machine works, without the knowledge (or permission) of the operator/owner. Viruses are so called because they behave in a similar way to biological viruses. Just as biological viruses pass from person to person, replicating themselves as they go, computer viruses pass from computer to computer. Unlike most biological viruses, however - computer viruses are entirely man made.
Viruses can serously damage your machine

Viruses can impair and seriously damage your computer (or network server) by, amongst other things; executing random text, audio and video messages, draining memory, deleting files, corrupting programs - even reformatting (erasing the contents of) your hard disk. At best, the less destructive variants are irritating and will slow the infected machine up (because of the drain on memory), often resulting in crashes and other unpredictable behaviour which can ultimately result in loss of data.

Although a virus needs an infected application to be launched in order to infect other programs or documents, they can conceal themselves in your computer (often masquerading as innocent files) and replicate (make copies of) themselves until such an infected application is launched.

Not all viruses behave in precisely the same way and not all malicious programs are viruses (like Trojans). Some viruses are only active whilst an infected applications is running, whilst others will stay active in memory until you turn off your computer. However, as the virus is resident in a file or on a disk, exiting the infected application or turning off your computer only removes the virus from memory, it does not remove the virus from the infected file or disk and the virus just lays dormant, until you to reboot your computer and/or access the infected application.

The various forms of computer viruses

Boot sector viruses infect the boot sector of a hard drive or floppy disk by first overwriting/moving the original boot code and then moving the original code to another sector on the disk, which the virus marks as bad.

File infecting viruses attach/modify any executable files, sometimes replacing the original code with its own.

Macro viruses are self replicating macros that self replicate and can spread rapidly on a computer and/or network.

Master Boot Record Infectors infect a system's Master Boot Record on hard drives and the Boot Sector on floppy diskettes.

Multi-partite viruses are commonly a combination of techniques of both boot sector viruses and file infecting viruses.

Polymorphic viruses are difficult to detect as they use an encryption algorithm that changes, along with the viruses' appearance, change their appearance with/after each infection.

Stealth viruses hide themselves from a computers' operating system and anti-virus products.

Viruses (including worms) are often distributed via attachments in e-mail spam and, ironically, a great deal of e-mail spam (particularly chain letters) are virus hoaxes.

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