In almost every single netiquette guide, people are reminded that a brief signature line is appropriate at the end of an email or newsgroup message. This rule is often abused by spammers, newbies and trolls, but on the whole, it has worked fairly well.
Now, it seems that anyone using their email account at work is unwittingly spamming the rest of the world, useulessly wasting precious bandwidth and valuable electrons. Every email coming out of corporate America or Corporate Australia has to have 20 lines of legalese disclaimers and other useless crap. What's the deal with that?
I analysed a recent post to a mailing list I follow, to make a point. The content was broken down like this:
- Email transport headers: 30 lines, 1656 characters
- Message body: 28 lines, 1367 characters
- Corporate disclaimers: 111 lines, 4205 characters
- Virus checking statements: 12 lines, 339 characters
- MIME regurgitated: 28 lines, 1513 characters
The message body was a predictably bad joke. I can wear the transport overhead, even though certain email clients (such as those designed in Redmond) put all sorts of extra crap in the real RFC headers. The corporate disclaimers were a waste of time; nobody reads them. They only annoy people and get in the way of the actual message. But in this litigious day and age, where everyone wants to sue everybody else, nobody can take responsability for their own actions, and everyone is trying to cover their arses, just so that if they get sued they can point to their disclaimer and say "bad luck - not my fault".
Anyway, I really wonder if half the legalese verbiage would really stand up in court if put to the test; I suspect much of it is simply hot air, to keep the lawyers happy.
And then of course, there is the "certified virus-free" crap. As far as I'm concerned, this is a blatant advertisement for somebody's virus-scanning product. Sure, they can scan it for known viruses to get that warm fuzzy feeling, but there is always a window of time between when a virus comes into the wild, and when the providers come out with their database update. So there will always be the potential for a virus to slip through and infect some poor sod's skanky MS Outlook system, which will happily go ahead and spam everyone they know into infected bliss.
Attachments are always going to be a potential source of viruses. But if people insist on using products that are more concerned with bells and whistles to keep you on the upgrade treadmill than they are about a secure architecture, people will always suffer. There are two simple solutions: first, use software that has been properly designed with security in mind, and second, train your users to deal with attachments sensibly.
I have a very simple policy that has protected me from viruses for many many years, and I am willing to share it with my gentle readers at no additional charge:
- Don't run executables from anywhere. Period. No matter how funny the animation is supposed to be. No really, don't. If you want to watch animations, view them with Flash or something. Executables only work on the platform and system they were compiled for anyway, immediately limiting their usefulness and lifetime. Why should I trust an entire executable and give it complete privileges to my machine, when all I need to get at is some data?
- Don't enable macros in documents you open from external sources. Honestly, how often are macros really necessary to view some sodding text?
- Secret weapon: use a Free Operating System with a decent email system.
It's a pointless waste. Disclaimers - why are they there? Real recipients just ignore them because they are annoying and get in the way of the real message, and unintended recipients ignore it and just hit the Delete key anyway. So in order to keep the lawyers happy, we are wasting some 50% of our bandwidth?
Pass the clue-stick...