Try an automated reply to emails
by George Skarbek - July 12

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Computer Guide Q: I mainly use my PC for email and intend to go overseas next month. I understand there is a way to leave an automatic message for people who contact me during my absence and enable the messages to remain in my inbox until they can be retrieved. Any practical information would be appreciated.

A: For people who work in an office, this can be easily done because the server in the office environment is always on and their mail program, such as Microsoft Exchange Server, can be configured to reply immediately when a message to you arrives on their server, not your computer.

For the home user, your computer must connect to your ISP to download your mail, having first set up some rules so that your email reader, such as Outlook Express, issues the reply after downloading.

If there is somebody to do this while you are away, then set your computer up so that your ISP is dialled and the mail is checked automatically when it is turned on. Then set up a rule that if, and only if, the email is addressed to you, a suitable reply is sent. Do not reply to all incoming mail as you will be replying to the spam mail, alerting them that they have found a real address and you could end up getting more spam.

To set up a rule in Outlook Express, click on Tools, Message Rules, Mail and New. Then select the Condition for incoming mail and in the action select Reply with Message. You will have to create an .EML (Express Electronic mail) file and this is what will be sent. The file can be created even with Notepad. But, if your computer will be off during this period, you cannot send automatic replies.


Q: I use Firefox as my internet browser and when I have completed a transaction on a secure site a message is displayed warning that any information can be accessed and can be easily read by a third party if I continue. Should I ignore the risk and continue or should I shut down the browser at that point or even disconnect from the internet in order to prevent this happening?

A: Ultimately this is your decision. I ignore these messages as I feel that the developers of browsers have put this message in mainly to cover themselves if some information is captured by a third party.

When you end a secure session, you revert to normal browsing that, in theory, can be intercepted. However, as there are many millions of packets per second travelling just in Australia, the probability that someone is going to capture your packet is miniscule. They must then filter out from the many thousands or millions of other packets to intercept your next one, etc. The probability of this is extremely low as anyone with the resources to tap into a large backbone of the internet will be looking for specific and more interesting information.

Be aware that if the warning comes up when you should still have an encrypted session (indicated by a closed padlock icon in the bottom right-hand corner and the web address starts with https: and not just http:), then you should immediately exit.

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