Archive for Email

Updated Posts: AntiVirus for Mac; Sneak Peek Sale

Back in Dec. 2008 I wrote a post titled Apple Encourages AntiVirus Use for Macs?! I updated the article today to include links to the latest AntiVirus and AntiSpyware applications for the Mac. If you still believe that Macs are invulnerable to viruses and spyware, then you may be interested in knowing that Apple has added anti-malware features to their latest Mac Snow Leopard operating system. See Dan Moren’s report at PCWorld on the Hidden Malware Features of Snow Leopard. I mentioned some risks to Mac users in recent weeks.

I also updated the links in my Jan. 2009 post about sale items on Buy.com. I’ve crossed out the items that are not available. I’ve updated the links and proces on the items that are available. It’s a useful link because many of the items have become very affordable.

Thinning out the Inbox

On April 30 I posted an article Make May Day “Unwanted Email Unsubscribe Day” with tips on clearing your Inbox of unwanted email — not spam, but subscriptions you signed up for, but no longer had an interest in. The article was well received and it received a few comments, too.  (Surprisingly I received a lot of email about it).

One great comment came from David Bondelevitch at dB’s Blog, who said:

Not just the inbox; every once in a while I will run a search in my trash for the word UNSUBSCRIBE and click on most of them.

Be careful though, some e-mails use that link to phish, and all you are doing is confirming to them that it is a functional e-mail address.

Today, I am still thinning out the Inbox and unsubscribing to several emails.

I am also updating my subscriptions, too. Some of the email addresses I subscribed with are addresses I’m not interested in using as much as I used to. So in some cases I am going back the original signup web site and updating my subscription details.

Some of the companies I receive mail from have taken this into consideration, and they’ve included a “Update your Preferences” link at the bottom of the email. Some other haven’t prepared for this possibility. In extreme cases, I have had to unsubscribe one address and resubscribe with another.

So keeping the Inbox thin is just like keeping yourself thin. The work never ends, it’s an ongoing process.

Make May Day “Unwanted Email Unsubscribe Day”

I get way too much email. The bulk of my email isn’t even personal messages, but mostly bulk email messages from newsletter subscriptions, web site and online shopping offers, fan site updates, business networking updates, social networking updates, Twitter alerts, Facebook notices, etc.

I’ve been getting so many of these that the personal and direct business emails have been getting lost under it all in my Inbox. On top of that, my mail files has become so large that the file became corrupted, and I wasn’t able to delete some messages.

Usually I spend a little bit of time one or two days a week just going through my mail sorting and deleting. It gets hard to keep up with it all, and I am still missing important messages.

I finally concluded: “the best thing to do is to reduce the amount of email I receive”.

So the first of May is tomorrow. Often referred to as May Day, which reminds me of the distress call “Mayday!”. I have made this the day, starting today, that I sit down with my email, take a good look at these bulk mail messages, and I UNSUBSCRIBE to them.

Here’s what I did:

  1. In my Inbox I clicked the top of the column where it says “From”. This sorts all my mail into groups of people and organizations.
  2. Then I scroll through the list looking for the biggest groups. These probably send to me every single day of the week.
  3. If I don’t want to see their emails again, I open one and scroll down to the bottom to find the UNSUBSCRIBE link. Bulk mailers are supposed to include an unsubscribe link.
  4. I click the link, which takes me to their web site where I am clearly offered an option to UNSUBSCRIBE, or they notify me that I will no longer receive their emails. (They have 10 days to comply according to the FTC).
  5. After I’ve unsubscribed I close the email message, and then I delete all the other messages in that group.

So save yourself, your Inbox, and your sanity, and make today your Email Unsubscribe Day!

Google Mail aka Gmail Outage

gmailCan I blame yesterday’s Gmail outage for the lack of a post today? No?

Just in case you didn’t know it, Gmail, Google’s email service which has been in beta since 2004, went down Tuesday afternoon, and didn’t come back fully until late in the evening. Google attributed the problem to server changes which may have overloaded their router traffic. That’s tech talk for the drain got clogged. (I recommend G-drano, Google guys).

Gmail has over 146 million users worldwide, and most of them were unable to access the service for much of the day. This is the second major outage this year. The prior one occurred on February 24, when Gmail was out for about 2.5 hours. You can read about that one here on Skylarking under Gmail Crashes Again. Did that say, “Again”? The major outage prior to that was October 2008 when Gmail was out for 30 hours without explanation.

Major outages aside, PC World reports that there have been several minor outages, too, prior to the last February’s outage:

• July 16, 2008: A similar “502 error” (bad gateway) struck Gmail, leading to what was described as a “long outage” by affected users.

• August 6, 2008: Technical trouble knocked an “undetermined number” of Gmail users (including both regular users and paying Google Apps clients) out of their mail for about 15 hours.

• August 11, 2008: An issue with Google’s “contacts system” caused Gmail access to go offline for a “couple of hours” for numerous users. Both individual accounts and Google Apps accounts were affected again.

• August 15, 2008: The third outage within a span of two weeks left users locked out of their accounts for more than 24 hours. That pesky “502 server error” popped up on the Gmail login page here, too.

• October 16, 2008: Users went a full 30 hours without access. Google didn’t elaborate on what caused the issue.

Google claimed in an IDG News Service report that “Gmail suffers only about 10 to 15 minutes of downtime each month”.

I guess I should be thanking Gmail for today’s post. “Thanks, Gmail!” Love skylarkingblog at gmail.com

Spam Fighting Update

My blog post titled “I’m Fighting Acai Berry Spam Today” from August 14, 2008 is the 4th most read post on Skylarking. It has received a fair amount of commentary since April of this year. The comments have lead me to add an update to the post to clarify the intent and purpose of the article:

This post is about spam in general, using Acai Berry spam as an example. I aim to (1) illustrate that sometimes email addresses and web site addresses don’t match; and that when WHOIS is used, one may often find that they might not belong to the same person or organization. That should be a warning as to the legitimacy of the email message (or the site). Some readers have focused more on the email aspect of spam, but (2) much spam directs you to a web site. As some commenters have pointed out: email addresses can be spoofed, and tracking an email can be very difficult, BUT it is my opinion that web sites can be easier to track.

So my point is that spam is often associated with a web site, and discrepancies between a web site and an email message can often help determine the validity of the email and/or the site.

You can read the updated post and comments here.

Thanks to everyone who has commented, and added their thoughts, ideas, and knowledge concerning the subject. And thank you for leading me to elaborate further. I look forward to hearing more comments and thoughts on the subject.

Conficker Virus Begins To Attack PCs

I was reading about the Conficker virus on Shawn’s Technology Blog. He says that a report from Reuters says the Conficker virus — which was supposed to activate on April 1st — has slowly started activating on computers by installing spyware and turning them into spam servers.

Conficker is also known as Downadup and Kido, and it also installs a second virus called Waledac.

Reuters mentions how the computer worm began spreading late last year, and how it was designed to respond to commands from a remote server. This army of slave computers infected with the worm controlled by a remote server is called a botnet.

Furthermore, Vincent Weafer, a vice president with Symantec Security Response, makers of Norton Antivirus, has reported that recently the unknown controllers of this remote server have begun using a small percentage of the computers they control to upload ‘malware’ and ‘spyware’. One such piece of malware is the Waledac virus which installs itself on the infected computer, and then uses the computer to send out spam email messages promoting a fake anti-spyware program.

Meanwhile, Shawn’s technology Blog is very wisely recommending that computer owners keep your Windows software up to date by visiting the Windows Update web site. He also recommends you install anti-spyware software such as PC Tools Spyware Doctor. I strongly agree with his recommendations, and have done so frequently in this blog. I also recommend you install an antivirus program such as Alwil’s free Avast! antivirus program. Yes, you read that correctly, Avast antivirus is free. I have been using it on all my computers for several years now.

http://www.pctools.com/free-antivirus/

There is a free version of Spyware Doctor available from Google which does a good job of removing spyware, but for real time protection against spyware you should purchase Spyware Doctor. If you don’t have an antivirus program, you might also consider downloading Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus.

Have a question about spyware or viruses? Then why not post a Comment or Question with the link below.

Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with Skylarking’s email form.

Truth About Email Petitions

I received the following question just last night:

I received an email telling me that email petitions and chain letters use tracking software and cookies to collect email addresses from anyone who receives that email message. I was also told that email petitions aren’t acceptable by congress like a signed petition would be. Are both these items true?

Well, the first is false, and the second is true.

Tracking Emails and Tracking Software

The only way an email can be tracked is from one sender to the first recipient. If I send an email message to a friend, it is possible for me to be notified when they open the message. If my friend forwards the message to someone else, there is no way for me to tell that has happened; nor is there any way for me to receive the email address of that second recipient, or any recipient after that. So, no, there are no tracking programs of this sort.

BUT, Remember the concept “Six Degrees of Separation”? Erase email addresses before forwarding a message

The idea of “Six Degrees of Separation” says that everyone is 6 steps away from any other person on the planet. Which in my way of thinking means that we are all six steps or less away from a spammer. The problem here being that when people forward an email message they usually leave any previous email addresses in the message, too, plus most people add new addresses of their own when they forward the message. The best practice here is after you click FORWARD and before you click SEND make sure you erase/delete any email addresses that appear within the email message. That is, just before you click SEND, read through the message and erase any email addresses you find in the message. If you don’t, you never know who in the chain knows or is a spammer.

BCC: Blind Carbon Copy Hiding Email Addresses

When you are sending an email message to multiple recipients, use the BCC or Blind Carbon Copy feature to address your message. That is, use BCC instead of TO. An, if your email software says, “At least one recipient is required in the TO field”, then put your email address in the TO field, and everyone else in the BCC field. The BCC field hides the email addresses from the recipients. When the sender uses the BCC field to address an email message, the recipients of that message will see “undisclosed recipients” in the TO field or elsewhere in the message. If you can’t find the BCC feature in your email software, contact your email service provider and have them tell you how to access it. Or you can contact Skylarking and I will help you find the feature.

Email Petitions Don’t Work

That much is true. A genuine petition requires signatures and street addresses. Anyone can type a list of names and email addresses into a petition, but there is no way for the recipient to prove or disprove that those people participated in or knew about the petition. It is best that each individual person email or contact their representative directly, and not as part of some long list of names in an email message. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to include your street address in such a petition, since you never know if that message might eventually end up in the hands of a spammer or an identity thief. After all, most acts of identity theft are performed by the victims friends, co-workers, and family members.




Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form.

Postcard from Hallmark Hoax

An oldie but a goody has been making the rounds again. The old “postcard from a friend” warning hoax. This one has been circulating in one form or another since 2001. Every three or four years it gets reinvented. Once upon a time it was the “Olympic Torch” hoax. Now, it’s the “Postcard from Hallmark” and the “Postcard from a friend” hoax. Here’s what it looks like as of August and November 2008:

warning

Postcard from Hallmark Warning Hoax

There’s a few tipoffs that this message isn’t to be taken seriously. First off, the Subject line (not shown) has the text “FWD”which means my friend forwarded it to me, and didn’t actually write the message. In some cases you have to open attachments to get to the message, which means it’s been forwarded many times.

Another tipoff is that there are no datesmentioned. When did they check Norton? Norton usually issues updates in less than 24 hours to fight these viruses, so it may be a dead issue by the time I get this email. By the way, Norton doesn’t “gear up”. They just issue a fix and that’s it. Same goes for McAfee, AVG, TrendMicro, and Alwil Avast. they all want to be the first to defeat any new virus, so these things are usually non-issues in less than 24 hours.

Tip: If I saw my friend sent this to me more than a day ago, or that he received it more than a day ago, I’d assume the virus was dead by now. Most of these things have a shelf life of 48 hours. If you renew your antivirus subscriptions every year, then your antivirus gets updated automatically any where from 4 to 12 times per day. That’s about every 2 to 4 hours.

Another tipoff this message is a hoaxis the fact that though they mention “I checked with Snopes (URL above), and it is for real!!”, but there is no URL (web address) in the message. If you take the time to check Snopes you find out this email began popping up again in August and November 2008. That’s 6 months ago. The antivirus companies blocked this virus before Thanksgiving.

Here’s another tip. Here’s what a real email notice from Hallmark looks like as of today:

hallmark-hoax

A Genuine Email Notice From Hallmark

Here’s how to recognize a genuine email notice from Hallmark:

1. The “From” includes Hallmark’s “hallmarkonline.com” email address and your friend’s email address. These messages don’t come anonymously. In your Inbox you would see your friend’s email address or name.

2. The genuine Hallmark email shows your email address in the “To” box. It’s not going to show more than one email address.

3. The genuine Hallmark notice shows your friend’s name in the Subject line with their first and last name. The same goes for the inside of the email message where they boldly display your friend’s full name (red circle area). As a matter of fact, I sent this message to myself from the Hallmark web site, and Hallmark wouldn’t even send the message without a First and last name in the mail form.

Another thing to watch out for is attachments. Hallmark doesn’t send attachments.  If I got a message claiming to be from hallmark from an anonymous friend, and I saw an attachment, I’d know it was a fake. Tap the Delete key.

Best Protection

The best protection from these hoaxes is antivirus software. Get a quality antivirus program, and make sure you renew your antivirus subscriptions every year. The best antivirus programs are from McAfee, Symantec/Norton, TrendMicro, and my personal favorite Avast from Alwil Software at www.avast.com. It’s free, and it works. Check out my post about Avast from last month. it tells you how to best install and set it up.

Renew your antivirus subscriptions every year.

Let me reinforce that point: Renew your antivirus subscriptions every year. If you bought a new computer, chances are you only had a 30 day trial version. It doesn’t update any more after 30 days, so you’re only protected from old viruses after that, not the new ones.

Another Tip: “BCC:” and not “To:”

If you can’t help yourself, and you feel you must notify everyone in your address book, find out how to use the “BCC” (Blind Carbon Copy) feature in your email system instead of the “To” box when addressing your email. All email systems have the BCC feature, but they don’t all display it openly. Using “BCC” instead of  “To” will hide all your friend’s email messages from each other.

Have you heard of six degrees of separation? That’s the theory that we are all separated from one another by 6 people. For example, your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend’s friend is Kevin Bacon. Put another way, your friend six places removed maybe a spammer. The copy of the email warning I received had no less than 268 email addresses in it.  If I was a spammer I would be so very very happy right now to have all those real email addresses.

Conclusions

  • “Postcard from Hallmark” warning email is a hoax. It’s been going around for almost 10 years in one form or another.
  • Get quality antivirus software such as Avast. (Watch out for the bogus antivirus programs out there).
  • Renew your antivirus subscriptions every year. They expire, and expired subscriptions don’t protect you from new viruses.
  • Antivirus programs update at least 4 to 12 times a day
  • Most viruses are blocked in less than 24 to 48 hours.
  • Use BCC instead of To when sending out mass emails. Don’t know where it is? Call your Email Service Providers customer service line or check their Help page. (Don’t know where to look? Contact me or post a comment, and I’ll find out for you.  No charge.)
  • Got a question about a potential hoax? Ask Skylarking to investigate or check out http://www.skylarknetworks.com/email-hoaxes.htm#Email_Hoaxes:_How_Spot_Them,_How_To_Check_Them

Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Gmail Crashes Again

googlemail_1349839cIf you’re an up-early-in-the-morning-to-check-my-email kind of person, and if your email is Gmail (Google Mail) then you may have woke up to disappoint today. Gmail crashed …. again.

Gmail users in the US and the UK experienced a 2.5 to 4 hour outage of service this morning, and Google is still scrambling to explain how it happened.

ComScore analysts estimate as many as 113 million people use Gmail worldwide. Not bad for a program that’s still in Beta. It may be the longest running test program on the planet for that matter. “Google has the world’s third most popular web mail service behind Hotmail with 283 million users and Yahoo with 274 million e-mail users”, comScore said.

Today’s outage isn’t the first. Another outage occured just 6 months ago in August 2008, when again, service was out for several hours after a glitch in the Gmail contacts system locked users out of their email.

Got any questions? Contact me at skylarkingblog at gmail.com. Ciao!




Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form.

Ten Tiny Things Every Small Business Owner Should Do in 2009

Publishing business advice may seema  bit of a departure for a tech blog like Skylarking, but Guy Kawasaki’s “Ten Tiny Things Every Small Business Owner Should Do in 2009” includes a several tips that include the use of technology for improving and checking on your business. I found this list on the Open Forum for Savvy Business Owners.

The following is quoted in full:

“On this, the last day of 2008, I provide a list of ten tiny things that every small business owner should do in 2009-hopefully in early 2009. Don’t consider it a New Year’s resolution because there’s a whole psychology behind such things. Just do it.

  1. Act like a prospective customer and call your company to see how the phone system and receptionist treat you.
  2. See if your website has a “Contact Us” section. If it doesn’t, add one. Ensure that it has a street address.
  3. Send your company an email asking for customer support and see if someone responds to it.
  4. Answer customer support calls or emails (not the one you sent in) for a day.
  5. Go out on a sales call with your salespeople and a service call with your service people.
  6. Read the documentation or manual that your company provides. Extra credit: See if you can do this without reading glasses.
  7. Pretend that you lost the documentation or manual that came with your product or service and try to find it on your website.
  8. Register your product or service including finding and reading the serial number of your product. Extra credit: See if you can read your serial number without reading glasses. Extra extra credit: If you use a Captcha system for registration, see how many times it takes to get the word right.
  9. Add a signature to your email. A “signature” is a block of text at the end of your emails that contain all your contact information. It saves your recipients the hassle of asking for your address and phone number or searching for them on your website.
  10. Join Twitter and then search for your company name, your product, your competition’s name or product name, or market sector terms from your business. For example, let’s say you’re in the web design business. Extra credit: Use Twitter as a twool.

If these tasks are helpful, you would probably enjoy “The Top Ten Stupid Ways to Hinder Market Adoption” and CustomerService.alltop. Kick butt in 2009!”

In my opinion, I have seen many small companies overlook their information email address, and allow many repeat messages to go unanswered. Or they have spam filters set to high on their email accounts and lose message from (potential) customers.

Another mistake made by many small business owners that Guy points out is the Contact page on their web site. Countless times I have seen web sites that don’t provide a way for people to find them in the real world. I’ve seen site’s with no mailing address, no store location listings, and no phone number.

I’d like to add my own personal pet peeve. Look at your site and see if you have a page similar to the “Upcoming Events” page where you list conferences and events your company will attend. How old are the listings there? Have they been updated recently? Have you moved old items off the site, or onto a list of “Past Events”? I have seen too many web sites that list upcoming events that are two or more years old! How’d you like a new customer to think you haven’t done anything in two years? Get in touch with your web site manager, pronto.  Don’t have one? Get one.

Using email signatures is a must for anyone in the bsuiness world. It is particularly useful into day’s economy if you find yourself in the market for a new job.  If you’re fresh out of college or new to the job search, don’t put your favorite (funny) quote in your signature line. not everyone is going to get it, nor is everyone going to want to read it.

Got some pet peeves or business advice of your own?  Share it here! Add a comment below.




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