Email Formats

December 18, 2009

When someone sends email, it can basically be in two different formats, plain text or HTML. Plain text means the message contains just plain old text and nothing else. No pictures. No colors. Nothing fancy. Without getting too technical, HTML is the same format that web sites are in. An email in HTML format means that the email can contain all sorts of graphics and special formatting. An email in HTML format can look just like a web page.

With a plain text email, there is no chance that an email can harm your computer. An attachment still could, but the email itself can’t. HTML format means an email can look great, but it also gives the sender of the email more power. Luckily, it’s not a lot of power, but it is enough to do some damage if you aren’t careful.

Sending an email in HTML format isn’t dangerous for you since you are controlling the content of your own email (hopefully). Receiving an HTML email from someone you know or a company you trust is generally not dangerous either. It is possible, however, that your friend sending you an HTML email could have an infection on their computer that sends infected email out on their behalf without their knowledge. The real danger is receiving an HTML SPAM email.

If you sign up for a newsletter, some of them will give you the option to choose if you want the plain text version or the HTML version. This option, however, is being used less and less. Most newsletters these days are in HTML format. In fact, this newsletter is in HTML format. That’s what allows us to use different fonts and colors and put the occasional picture in. We try to keep it small and simple so it’s easy to read.

Here’s how you can help protect yourself in regard to HTML formatted email.

First, just like you have to be careful where you click on a web page, be careful where you click in an HTML formatted email. In fact, don’t click anything in an email if you can help it. Even if it appears to be from a company you trust, it could be a phish attempt.

┬áSecond, don’t open any attachments unless you are absolutely sure it’s safe.

Follow those two simple rules, and you should be safe assuming you have good security software that is not expired and is up to date.

If you are still concerned, most email programs have an option to convert all incoming HTML email into plain text. This makes HTML email safe, but it can make it hard to read your email.

In summary, HTML is the most common email format and as long as you are careful and follow 2 simple rules, you should be fine.

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