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The Hidden Dangers of HTML Email
by: Kathy Burns-Millyard
As a veteran Internet user, I can honestly say I remember a time when HTML email was not possible. Back then RTF wasn't available either and for that matter, email programs did not even wrap lines for you or allow file attachments.

Today however, I receive a steady and annoying stream of email in all shapes, colors and sizes. Almost all promotional advertisements and many newsletters come in Html format.

Now, Spam is annoying, Spam in droves even more so, but Spam with "twirlygigs" is intolerable -- and dangerous. HTML is for websites. I visit them all the time and enjoy their various amusements. Email however, is a tool. A communications method used for getting work done. I get plenty of regular email, hundreds of pieces a day usually, due to the support, consulting and writing services I provide. If all of those emails are in HTML format then I'm stuck looking at potentially hundreds of web pages and thousands of graphics.

HTML email takes extra time to download, and for me it takes extra time to read. You see I don't trust HTML email. I've coded many websites in my day and I know that scripts can be hidden in the pages. Now when you couple that fact with the daily news about viruses and worms being sent, well that's just downright scary, so I do not allow my email program to automatically open HTML formatted email. Now I rarely use Outlook and Express (sorry Microsoft but they feel just a bit too dangerous to me now days) however I'd rather be safe than sorry no matter which email program I use. So, I have my email software configured to show all HTML messages as attachments.

Having the email converted to an attachment allows me to immediately see if there are any other files included with the message. And let me tell you, this has saved my butt time after time! I've lost count of how many times I've gotten email with the HTML attached, and malicious code, worms and viruses attached right next to it. If my email program was configured to "conveniently" display HTML as a web page, then a lot of those attached files would have opened on their own and done who knows what to my system.

So, if you receive a lot of email yourself, be careful what you allow to come in. If you run a newsletter or Email update service of any kind, please be courteous and at least ASK before sending HTML formatted email. And when you do have permission to send HTML email, don't include heavy graphics, scripts or other file attachments.

Text may not be as glamorous, but it's a heck of a lot safer and much easier for your readers to glance through.

About the author:
(c) 2002 Kathy Burns.

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