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ComputeThisOnline Newsletter 2
Please forward: Halt the e-mail hoaxes!

A while back, I received an e-mail that, at first glance, appeared to be a sort of electronic "public service announcement" sent to me by a concerned friend and warning me of an new "worst-ever" computer virus disguised as a "Virtual card for you." This message was followed shortly by another similar message giving me a tip on how to make my e-mail "virus-proof" by entering "000" in my address book.

Very quickly I discovered that these messages were not real, and my friend (bless her heart) had been duped by an e-mail virus hoax.

Virus hoaxes have been around for a while, and unlike real viruses, don't actually do harm any to your machine. The real damage is done to the Internet as a whole, as these messages are duplicated and sent out, needlessly clogging the e-mail system.

Usually, they are written with some type of helpful overtone with the real motive being that you duplicate the message by forwarding it to everyone in your address book, thereby replicating the hoax and giving it a lifecycle similar to a real computer virus.

Stop the email hoaxes! So how can you tell? What do you do when you get an e-mail message that appears to have helpful information and you would like to pass on to your family and friends but you don't want to send them something bad? Easy — just take the time to verify these messages before passing them on to your entire address book, that's all.

Go to one of the urban legend sites like ( or go to McAfee's virus hoax page ( - about the only thing McAfee's good for) and do a quick search on the subject that you are sending.

A quick search on either or McAfee reveals that both the "000 address book fix" and the "A virtual card for you" e-mails are 

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both hoaxes designed to disrupt Internet use by clogging the e-mail system, as the messages are forwarded all over the Internet by un-suspecting, well-meaning people like my friend.

I know people are just trying to be helpful when they forward this stuff, but that is just what these hoax e-mails are designed to exploit. If 10 people send the message to everyone in their address book and just one of the recipients do the same, after just a few iterations the resulting exponential number of e-mails being forwarded can (and has in the past) bring parts of the Internet to a crawl.

The only way to thwart these Internet disrupters is literally to resist the urge to forward everything to your entire address book. Only when people stop forwarding things to their entire address book will things like the "000 hoax" be unable to work as its authors designed.

So please, help stop the bandwidth-eating spread of Internet hoax viruses; stop forwarding messages to your entire address book without checking them first or better yet, just don't forward anything to everyone in your address book at all! That's a good habit to break!

Please send this message to everyone you know :-)

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Getting your computer to 'lock up' can be a good thing

Does your computer "lock up" when you step away from your machine?

In today's climate of high security consciousness it's surprising to me just how many people answer, "no."

If you use a computer in an environment that has any number of people coming and going, locking your machine when you step away really is a good habit to get into.

I know what a lot of you are thinking, "Why should I lock up? The only people around here are folks I trust. Why should I lock up every time I step away?"

The answer is you can never be too cautious.

When you leave your desktop unlocked you become vulnerable, not only to someone walking up to your machine and stealing your private information. That's what most people think about when they think about the reasons for locking up.

Lock up that machine!An even more practical reason is to protect the machine from getting messed up accidentally by someone you know and trust, such as a child or anyone else who might not know what they are doing.

For instance, I had a caller recently who stepped away from her keyboard to run to the store and didn't lock up.

Her kids were home with guests, all trusted adults. When she returned, she found one of the guests had gotten on the machine and downloaded and installed a bunch of stuff in her quest to instant message a friend online.

All of this was innocent enough, but now the system had additional toolbars installed, an instant messenger client popping up all the time and the browser's start page had been changed.

Boy, was this lady frustrated.

After spending some time cleaning her system and putting things back the way she liked them, we went over some basic security options 

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that make securing, or locking, her machine quick and easy.

First, each user account should be set with a password. You can set the password for your account in Windows by going to the control panel, then user accounts. Pick a password that's easy to remember, but hard for someone to guess (avoid "12345" or birthdays of family members).

Next, get into the habit of locking up right before you step away.

On Windows machines, if you hit "ctrl + alt + del" and then immediately hit enter, that will lock the machine.

Ctrl, alt, del brings up a menu with "lock" as the option highlighted; hitting enter executes whatever is highlighted, so in this case, the computer locks.

Another option is to use the screen saver to lock when activated.

The only problem is that there is usually a period of time before it actually locks and in that time anyone can stop it from locking just by moving the mouse.

Another objection people have to locking their machine is they don't want to have to enter their password again and again every time they return to their machine.

It's a small price to pay, but worth it.

If you really don't want to have to enter your password all the time, there are ways to have your system recognize you as you without having to type a password.

You can get a relatively inexpensive USB fingerprint reader. Some laptops are available with this as a built in feature.

Or, if you have a Web cam hooked up to your PC, you can try a program such as Banana Security's BananaScreen software that compares your face to a previous snapshot, and if it's you sitting in front of the keyboard, it unlocks it for you. If it doesn't for whatever reason you still have the option to type in your password. Banana Screen is available for download at, but keep in mind it's a beta program so it may not work right 100 percent of the time. Beta software is still in the testing and refinement stage.

If it works, great, if it doesn't, remember they're still working on it.

I've got it running on one of my machines and, for the most part, it works pretty well. The screen locks after about a minute after I step away from the screen and when I come back, it recognizes my face and unlocks the computer.

Pretty cool.

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Say goodbye to inbox clutter

Every week I am called to different businesses and homes to help with computer problems. Many of the issues I'm asked to resolve are e-mail related.

I am often astounded by the amount of "clutter" I find in the average in-box.

What has become clear to me is that most people either aren't aware of the organizational capabilities of their e-mail client, or they know about them, but don't know how to use them.

Let's take a closer look at Microsoft's Outlook Express, an e-mail client that's preinstalled on most Windows-based machines.

If you aren't using Outlook Express, don't worry. Most of the e-mail programs out there will do the same thing, you just have to look around for similar commands.

Let's assume that Outlook Express is installed and running properly. Launch it and click on your "inbox."

Tame that inbox clutter!The inbox holds all of your incoming mail (hence the name) until you decide what to do with it.

You have several options.

First, of course, read the e-mail by clicking on the little envelope icon by each message. But what else can you do?

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Well, you can delete the message after reading it by clicking the "delete" button.

You can forward the message to someone else by clicking the "forward" button.

You can print it by clicking the "print" button.

You can reply to the message by clicking the "reply" button.

Or, you can file it by dragging the message (click and drag the little envelope icon) into an appropriate folder in the folder list at the left of the screen.

OK, here's where the confusion begins (and where the cluttered in-box syndrome ends).

You may have noticed that the only folders in the folders list are "inbox," "outbox," "sent," "deleted items" and "drafts."

What if your files don't fit those categories?

Well, you have to create the appropriate folders.

Once you have your folders setup, say goodbye to inbox clutter.

Let's go over an example.

Let's say that every day you get e-mail from Tom, Dick and Harry. You want to save these messages but your inbox is a mess.

With the "right" mouse button, click on the "local folders" icon in the folders list.

Next click "new folder."

Type "Tom" and then click OK. Do the same for Dick and again for Harry.

Now you'll have three new folders under local folders called "Tom," "Dick" and "Harry."

You are now ready to start filing.

Anytime you open your e-mail inbox and you have a message from Tom, Dick or Harry, just drag the envelope icon and drop it into the appropriate folder. Namely, drag messages from Tom and drop into the Tom folder.

Create as many folders as you like.

Once the folders are created keeping your inbox tidy is a snap; just drag the messages you want to keep into the appropriate folders and delete the ones you don't, and every time you need a new folder, just create one.

Your inbox will thank you

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