Back to the future (ditch dangerous html email for plain text)

Full%20Email%20Headers%20-%20Pine%204I have a confession to make. I have been guilty of something that I used to avoid like the plague…I have been sending email in html format. Yes…It’s true. Please forgive me if I am one of the people responsible for clogging up your mailbox. I don’t know what came over me, but I notice that it happened when I started using the iPhone several years ago. What got my attention after all of these years? The 11MB email I sent yesterday to my manager.Don’t get me wrong, for many people sending html email is not a big deal, and receiving it is really nice if you like pretty pictures and easy to use “point and click” navigation. However, html email is actually dangerous to your system. How, you ask? Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you.

What is html email exactly? Simply put, it is a web page that you are reading your email on. Behind every web page there is a great deal of code that you don’t ever see that is generating the nice page you are looking at. However, buried in that code is all sorts of stuff that could be opening your system up to virus infections, SPAM and worst case, identity theft.

Sometimes I don’t explain everything just right, so I want to make sure you view it in a format that will make sense to the non-technical folks as well as the technical folks who probably already know this. Bob Cromwell does a lot of good work and makes it available online, and has written extensively on this. Thankfully, it’s brought the technical reasoning down to a level we can all understand. I invite you to read his posting on this very subject. I think you’ll find it helpful. However, I am not done with this topic, so please come back and read it when you are done 🙂

I mentioned clogging up your inbox. Let’s discuss that. Right now the average html email is 75KB. Not huge, but consider this. The average text email is 5KB. This is just email without any attachments. So, let’s look at my inbox for a minute. I have 4000 emails (five months worth) in my inbox (I never throw anything away, and neither should you). Those 4000 emails, assuming there is no attachments and assuming that they are all 75KB in size come to 300,000kb or 300mb. If these were all text message at 5KB each, we cut the size drastically to 20,000KB or 20MB. That is just my work email. If I move over and check my personal email it will hit home a bit more considering I have over ten years of emails saved.

For a corporate side, this is important for a completely different reason. Data storage! Publicly traded companies and those dealing with any number of regulations are required by federal law to keep every email forever or face nasty fines if they are unable to produce an email during a lawsuit (called Electronic-Discovery). Data storage is not a small expense by any stretch of the imagination with some enterprise storage systems ranging into the millions of dollars. When a company is looking to cut expenses, cutting data storage allocation is sadly not one of those areas where they can make cuts. So what can companies do? Easy…switch to text emails and get away from html. Granted, text is not pretty, but seriously, how many of you have ever said “wow…what a boring looking email” and moved on to a more attractive looking email. We all just want to see what is being said, and then we move on. Nothing fancy…just give me the facts. Want proof that you don’t care what the format of the message is? Do you ever send a text message from your phone?

So, here is my commitment. If I send you an email, it will be in text format. You’re welcome…it is my gift to your inbox. And, at the same time, please feel free to do the same to me.

OH…one more thing. Remember that part about html email being dangerous to your system? Since most of your friends will send email in html despite your begging them not to and your countless hours attempting to show them how wrong they are for doing so, you need a way to protect yourself. Turn off html rendering in your email client. Yes…live on the edge and turn off the html rendering and read the email in plain text. It might take you a little getting used to, but in the end you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches when you are NOT getting the virus that was embedded in the email code. While I can’t do it for every email client, I’ll tell you how in Outlook 2010 as most of my readers are corporate users:

  • Click on the “FILE” tab at the top left
  • Select “OPTIONS
  • Click “TRUST CENTER” and then click “TRUST CENTER SETTINGS
  • Click “EMAIL SECURITY
  • Under “READ AS PLAIN TEXT” select the “READ ALL STANDARD MAIL IN PLAIN TEXT” check box
  • To include messages signed with a digital signature, select the “READ ALL DIGITALLY SIGNED MAIL IN PLAIN TEXT” check box

(Taken from the Microsoft Outlook 2010 documentation)

Until next time, I’ll see you in the Cloud!

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