The Washington Post has a long article about a so called email that is causing Americans to think Obama is Muslim.

The jist of the article is that it is a nasty email that is doing all the harm, something that I question.

The most amazing sentence in this WaPo expose is this one:

The e-mail landed in Danielle Allen’s queue one winter morning as she was studying in her office at the Institute for Advanced Study, the renowned haven for some of the nation’s most brilliant minds. The missive began: “THIS DEFINITELY WARRANTS LOOKING INTO.” Laid out before Allen, a razor-sharp, 36-year-old political theorist, was what purported to be a biographical sketch of Barack Obama that has become one of the most effective — and baseless — Internet attacks of the 2008 presidential season.

Well, Professor. Allen might be “razor sharp”, but apparently she knows nothing about email security.

Lesson one: Don’t open email from unknown people, especially mass mailings, a.k.a. “spam”.

American businesses lose $71 billion annually from lost productivity alone because people like Professor Allen waste time reading and deleting bulk and junk email. This doesn’t include cost of storing hundreds of unwanted emails on the company’s servers, the cost to companies who have to buy spam filters for their systems, the burden on the internet that can be overburdened by routine or mass mailing of such emails, and of course the loss of wanted emails because the filter is too tight.

We all know what is in these files: Ads for “friendly women who want to meet you”, ads for Viagra, weight loss medicine, and of course, phishing scams (you won a lottery, or your bank/ebay needs confirmation, or “I’m Mrs Salim from Nigeria and do I have a deal for you”).

Your time is valuable, Professor, so why are you reading spam email from an unknown sender?

Lesson Number two: Make sure your email server only lists the subject line, not any part of the letter.

Now, Professor Allen’s email was labeled ” “THIS DEFINITELY WARRANTS LOOKING INTO.”

Now, if I had received an email with that in the subject line, I would assume it was about Viagra or pornography, and not bother to open it.

However, I presume Professor Allen doesn’t use viagra, and opened the email because her email server allowed the first line of the letter to be included in the list, and she noticed it was about Senator Obama.

Whoops, Professor, this is a no no.

When I worked at a US Federal Clinic, we had to change our Outlook express to stop including any part of the email message, because of the security risk to our network. We were told that even this “little bit” of the letter could contain a virus or a worm.

Earth to Professor: Change your email format.
Lesson three: Never, never open an email from an unknown person on a business computer.

The good professor not only opened a bulk email from an unknown sender, but she opened it in her office.

Now, most businesses have filters, and most email programs have filters. They do several things: One is to do a quick scan for viruses, and another is to screen for spam/unwanted bulk mail so that any mass mailings that you don’t approve are placed in the “spam” file.

However, the filters are not 100 percent efficient.

They not only can miss newer worms or viruses, they can accidentally screen out newsletters that you actually want to read.

But spam is not only annoying, some of these email letters contain worms or viruses. You open them, and voila, the email places a worm into your computer. And not just your computer, but the entire network.

Our clinic computers and the Area network were once crashed by a virus someone (not me, and not at our clinic) accidentally opened an infected email. We couldn’t use the network for two days. Luckily we hadn’t transitioned to electronic medical records at the time, but it was still annoying.

Some of these nasty worms and viruses can contaminate your files, and you end up with destroyed files. Other worms can place stuff on your hard drive. Some have been known to place fake files such as pornographic files on your computer. And some take over your “inbox” and send the fake message to everyone in your email address book.

Which makes me wonder: The Professor did all this searching to find the rumor, which is all over the internet, yet never found who was behind the emails. Could it be because the emails are being spread by a virus? This may not be “chain mail” (Implying lots of evil people who are spreading rumors) as much as a mass mailing that a single spammer could do easily, especially with modern software that will use other people’s computers to keep the spam going.

So the real lesson of the article is:

Attention Hackers: Loose security on the Princeton University computers. Come and Get it.

Just joking.

Hopefully, a geek at the University will notice the article and make the eggheads take a basic course in email security.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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