Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Safe E-mail Practices

Hi Everyone!

Been getting a rash of e-mail viruses lately, and I thought I would share some safe e-mail practices today. I usually share these with my students at the beginning of every semester.

Electronic Mail
All e-mails should contain the following:
  •  A subject line that relates to the subject of the e-mail.
  • A salutation to the person that you are writing to.
  • The body of the e-mail is where you include what you want to say to the other person.
  • A closing statement identifying yourself. Also known as a “signature”.
Signatures can be set up to automatically be included in most e-mail services, but I recommend personalizing it in every e-mail even if you use the automation.

Also, e-mails that contain links or attachments should reference the links and attachments in the body of the e-mail with some degree of explanation for their existence—otherwise the recipient may assume that they are viruses. I further recommend (although it is not required), that when you include an attachment that you add a post-closing statement of the following form.

“Attachment(#): “Title_of_1st_Attachment.file_extension” ~approximate size; “Title_of_2nd _attachment.ext” ~approximate size; etc.

As previously mentioned, most e-mail services can be set up so that they automatically include a signature. These also usually have an option to “save” sent mail to a “sent mail” folder accessible through your e-mail. I highly recommend this so that both parties have a record of the conversation in its entirety.

Finally, when replying to an e-mail, appending “RE:” at the beginning of the subject line is acceptable to indicate that you are replying, but unless you also include the body of the e-mail(s) that you are replying to, you may want to preface the body of your e-mail with a paragraph explaining what you are replying to. It is usually a default option to include all previous correspondence in the body when replying, but sometimes people delete this and expect the recipient to recall the conversation in its entirety. Many people receive dozens of e-mails a day and it is absurd to believe that they would remember the details of a conversation—especially if several days have passed.

Anyway, there are many reasons why these things are recommended. First, "robots" are generally "stupid" in that they don't actually "know" you or to whom they are sending e-mails out in your name. Thus, they are unable to provide a salutation to the person you are talking to and unable to "sign" the e-mail with your name (unless it's automatic--more reason to avoid auto-signatures or at least supplement them with an actual one). 

I have gotten into the habit of not opening e-mails with no subject included, as e-mails without subjects are frequently sent by viruses. Even if there is a subject though, make sure that it is relevant to the actual--wait for it--subject of your e-mail. Your subject shouldn't be unnecessarily vague. For instance, "look at this" or something like that is common virus fodder.

As far as the hyperlinks and attachments go, I'd hope that it is self-explanatory, but even links and attachments from friends and trusted associates should not be blindly opened. If the person does not actually reference the link or attachment, then you should not click it because some viruses are deceptive in that they piggyback on otherwise regular messages. Even more sophisticated, some viruses will piggyback on a file attachment and increase the size of the attachment (or replace it entirely). This is why I recommend including the approximate size of your attachments. You may be saying, but my e-mail service does this automatically--well automation is the arena of the viruses as well. With just a little effort, maybe an extra 30-50 seconds of your time, you can make the e-mails you send to your friends and associates that much safer and more trustworthy and if you pass along the good behavior, then the e-mails you receive will be that much safer as well!