E-mail (Electronic Mail) has become a popular way of communicating over the Internet. It enables messages to be sent instantly anywhere in the world. Instead of writing a letter and paying postage why not send it electronically? Using e-mail requires an e-mail address that is either provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or a free service web site. Free addresses are popular due to their availability.


This is a good time to discuss the existence of servers and how they play a crucial role in Internet communications. A server is a fast, high-powered computer or bank of computers with large amounts of data storage. The basic function of a server is to store data and then serve or deliver that information to users when requested. Servers are specifically designed for their function and there are many types such as e-mail servers, web servers, ISP servers, and DNS servers to name a few. They work together to make up the backbone of the Internet and permit our communications with it. These servers are typically found in an ISP office or many large web site search engines will have them as well.

E-mail Function

It is important to understand that e-mail travels over the Internet from server to server. For example: I send an e-mail to a friend living in Florida. I log on to my e-mail, type my friends e-mail address in the “To:” box and then type the message. Once I select “Send” my server uses the address to forward the e-mail to my friend’s server. My friend then retrieves the e-mail during his next log on to his server.

ISP Based E-mail

As mentioned before, e-mail is available through either an ISP or a free service. The provider’s name is typically part of the address revealing what type it is. All ISP’s assign at least one e-mail account per customer but some people decide not to use it. They prefer instead to use a free e-mail account. It is common to access ISP e-mail with a client program installed on the user’s computer. Programs like Microsoft Outlook Express (included with Windows), Microsoft Outlook, QUALCOMM Eudora and Mozilla Thunderbird, as well as many others are designed for this purpose. When a client program is opened, it contacts the ISP e-mail server and synchronizes to receive new e-mails or updates. The client program has all functions related to e-mail like composing and deleting. After making changes, the user can close the client program or manually click a Send/Receive button to update the server. Once updated, the server will replicate the changes and send e-mails accordingly. ISP’s commonly provide web based access on their web site allowing users to access e-mail from any web connection. This can be for users who either do not want to use a client or are away from their normal computer.

Free E-mail

Many search engines and web sites like www.yahoo.com, and www.gmail.com offer free e-mail service. Such e-mail accounts are completely web based and popular despite the advertisements users must endure. Such popularity also creates a breeding ground for spam. Web based e-mail is accessible through web browsers. The web site supplies a web interface for users to gain access. Mail is never stored on the user’s computer unless they purposefully save it there. This creates a safety zone from malware and other undesirable items that might be hiding. However, if an attachment is opened or a link selected, it will use a program on the user’s local computer therefore opening the potential for infection.

Take note when signing up for free e-mail; it requires personal information during registration. The provider uses this for target advertising. Some people use fictitious names as well as other fake information. Users who plan to use the e-mail address for professional correspondence should consider using their real name or initials. This name will be attached to all e-mails sent and might confuse recipients. Some free e-mail services do allow the sent name to be changed making it different from the registered name.


Spam is basically junk e-mail from advertisers, companies, or people you don’t know. It is similar to junk mail sent to your home. Many times it contains inappropriate words in the subject line as well as suggestive phrases. Most people ask me how they get Spam when they use antivirus protection software on their computer. Well for starters, Spam is not a virus it is just unwanted e-mail. In addition, it is typically stored on the server, not the user’s computer. For users with a client e-mail program installed locally, Spam would only flag antivirus software if an attachment was infected. Some antivirus programs also have Spam filtering included.

Many e-mail providers scan for Spam but are typically overwhelmed and miss some. Setting filter parameters is also tricky when discerning between Spam and legitimate e-mail. If a user checks e-mail with a web interface, there is no concern with Spam prevention on the local computer since it stays entirely on the e-mail server. Usually there is a way to designate e-mail as Spam which will attempt to block future e-mail from the same sender. Chain e-mails are also known to cause Spam. Chain e-mails have cute pictures, graphics, jokes or encouraging stories. Recipients like them so much they forward them to all of their friends. Many times the e-mail also includes instructions to send it to other people to keep it going. Most users never realize their address and their friends’ addresses become part of the chain history. A Spammer will use these e-mails to extract addresses. Ask your friends not to send such e-mails and you should never forward them to other friends. If you must participate in receiving such e-mails, create a junk account with a free e-mail service. Tell your friends to forward them to that account so your real address is not as susceptible to Spam.


Phishing is an e-mail appearing to be from a legitimate company. The purpose is to trick recipients into providing personal information such as credit card, bank account, and social security numbers. The e-mail uses the legitimate company logo and other identifiable marks to gain the trust of the victim. With claims of “During our regularly scheduled account maintenance and verification procedures, we have detected a slight error in your billing information” or “If your account information is not updated within 48 hours then your ability to purchase will become restricted” it is tempting for recipients to respond. Typically users respond by selecting a link in the text of the e-mail. The e-mail originator knows many recipients will not have an account with the company and realize it is a trick. However, phishing a large group might hook a few people who actually do.


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