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Who's Messing With Your Email? 22 July 2002 Edition
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All Internet users should be aware that regular email just isn't a very secure method of sending messages.

In fact, it is the electronic equivalent of a picture-postcard where anyone who wants to can read what you've written without your knowledge.

Unfortunately, many of us forget this simple caveat and hardly ever consider the fact that your messages may be read by third parties, or even altered without your permission or approval.

In the past seven days there have been two stories which must have brought this home.

Feature: Promoting Your Website
Dont' forget to check out the series of hints on how to promote your website which will be regularly added to throughout the next few weeks.

New this week: The Importance Of Branding

First-up, free email service YahooMail was found to be altering the occasional word inside users emails. It would convert these words to something else with a similar meaning.

The word expression was changed to statement, mocha to expresso and eval to review.

This was done, according to Yahoo, because these words (and others) could be part of a cunning script designed to hijack your computer.

Okay, so the motive was reasonable but did this really entitle them to edit people's email without even any advice that such editing had taken place?

Readers Say
(updated hourly)
  • Tivo... - HT
  • Xtra? More like Infecta!... - Mike

    From Friday...

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  • Epson Stylus 600... - Ray
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  • ink cartridges... - Grant
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  • Have Your Say

    And now NZ's largest ISP, Xtra is introducing its own "we will edit your email" scheme.

    As with YahooMail, the intentions are sound -- they're going to check each and every one of the emails you send and receive to make sure that it doesn't contain a virus. If it does, the file concerned will be deleted and you'll simply receive a little note advising you of this.

    Okay, I'm not going to bitch too much about this -- suffice to say that for 99.9% of users this will be a positive move that will undoubtedly save more than a few people's backsides.

    However, one must wonder whether it's fair to "inflict" this unsolicited email monitoring and editing on everyone?

    There appears to be no way to opt-out of Xtra's anti-virus system and I can only imagine a small handful of occasions when a user might have legitimate reason to want to send a copy of a virus, trojan or worm to someone else (for genuine research perhaps) -- but what's wrong with giving users the choice?

    There's also the fact that this type of software often introduces a feeling of false security amongst the naive. "No need to worry any more, our ISP blocks all viruses" could become some of the Net's most famous last words.

    To their credit, Xtra does make the point that the system is not perfect and "strongly recommends you install and regularly run up-to-date anti-virus software installed on your computer"

    Personally, I'd actually like the right to receive viruses by email if I wanted to. I get annoyed when people force their hand-holding, wet-nursing systems down my throat.

    One reason I might not want my emails checked is because I find that Xtra's seemingly overloaded mailservers sometimes introduce delays of up to 12 hours as it is. Although XTRA deny that this new anti-virus processing will slow things down, I'd rather have the option of jumping the queue.

    I take extraordinary care to ensure that my systems are not infected by worms, trojans or viruses and Xtra's service becomes just another hurdle my emails have to jump through. Would it really have hurt to have a little check-box that says "Check email for viruses?" so that I had control?

    An Update on hVCPlus and Sky TV
    Just a follow-up on my research into the use of the hVCPlus software package to decode videocrypt broadcast signals such as those used by Sky TV's UHF service.

    It has been reported to me that one user who has been testing this software has finally established a configuration that allows viewing with almost total accuracy of decoding. Apparently last night's movie "Castaway" suffered from just three scenes where decoding synchronisation was briefly lost -- accounting for a total of about two minutes in a two hour movie. Not bad at all.

    I also spent a few minutes experimenting here and found that the graininess I referred to before was simply a lack of signal level. With a stronger signal the output of this software is now "perfect."

    Just a reminder that I couldn't possibly endorse the use of this software to infringe the intellectual property rights of Sky TV and this information is only provided because so many people have been asking.

    I note also that quite a few readers who are Sky Digital users have complained that the service continues to deteriorate. The latest problem appears to be a lack of synchronisation between the video and audio parts of the broadcast which makes many movies look as if they've been dubbed right through.

    And I'm still waiting for the hardware for the Kiwi Tivo/ReplayTV box to arrive -- but when it does I'll set up a new page covering this exciting project.

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    Security Alerts
    PGP Outlook plugin has major hole (TheReg - 12/07/2002)

    IE scripting flaw uncovered (TheReg - 12/07/2002)

    Microsoft Reveals Still More Security Flaws (NewsFactor - 28/06/2002)

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    (CNet - 28/05/2002)

    Apache Web Servers at Risk - Patching Urged (NewsFactor - 23/06/2002)

    Virus Alerts
    Kowbot worm targets Kazaa network
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    Worm exploits Apache vulnerability (Computerworld - 01/07/2002)

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