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Issue #316: August 11, 2013

Q: Computer power on, but not on the web via e-mail or browser. Can a spammer get into my computer under these conditions? I frequently have programs alert me that there is an update and I haven’t opened that program. Do programs we use send out status information without the user knowing about it?

– Glenn H.
Shalimar, Florida

A:  I’m afraid you may not like the answer to this one, Glenn.  But I can’t even get you to the answer without correcting some very commonly misused terminology in your question.  The words I want you to bring to mind are “the Internet” and “The World Wide Web” or just “the web”.  Many people use these two terms pretty much interchangeably, but they are not even close to the same thing.  To be accurate, the Internet is a massive computer network that is comprised of countless, smaller, interconnected networks.  These networks are the infrastructure upon which travel the data for all the online services that we have come to know over the years.  But the World Wide Web is NOT the Internet.  Rather, it is one of the services that USE the Internet.  Now, all that may sound like a minor distinction, but understanding the difference is critical in terms of comprehending the answer to your question.  Remember: Internet = infrastructure, Web = service that uses that infrastructure.

With that in mind, hopefully you can see that it makes no sense to say that you are “on the web via e-mail”.  You might be able to say that you’re “on e-mail via the web”, but only if you’re using webmail, since traditional e-mail is nothing but another service that sends its data via the Internet.  If you’re understanding all of this, you’re probably starting to see that in the context of your question it makes no difference whether you’re using the web or not, because as long as your computer is “on the Internet”, it is essentially connected to every other computer on the Internet, and you have a data path by which an Internet bad guy can “get into your computer”.  But it’s not a free-for-all.  We rely on things like routers, firewalls, malware scanners, and good, secure passwords to prevent someone from simply wandering onto our computers and taking whatever they please.  P.S. – If all that terminology isn’t enough for you, here’s one more.  By definition, a “spammer” is one who sends SPAM e-mail, not someone who tries to break into your computer.

As for your programs, yes, many of them use the Internet to communicate with their publisher on a regular basis.  For legitimate programs, this isn’t any nefarious plot to steal your data, it’s simply designed to check for available updates, to keep you running the latest (and most secure) versions available.  Now you know.

Q: Since updating to Windows 7 (and simultaneously switching from MS Outlook Express to MS Outlook), some 2 & 1/2 years ago, I’ve discovered that although I can still SEND email to everyone in my address book (and they’ve told me they can still receive them) I’m NO LONGER able to RECEIVE ANY email from several of them. I still use COX.NET, the same as before.  ALL (except one–a BELLSOUTH.NET–) of the missing inbound emails are ALSO COX.NET. I’ve checked all Norton 360 and MS spam filters and have even specified that some of the email addresses be SPECIFICALLY ALLOWED as valid inbound email addresses, all to NO avail!. NONE of the outbound emails “Bounce”. Apparently the missing in-bound emails are “lost in the Twilight Zone”. Any suggestions?

– Paul V.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: I almost always have suggestions, Paul.  The question is whether my advice actually helps my readers fix anything.  (I’m resisting my URGE to do my ENTIRE reply with CAPS EMPHASIS.)

First, let me say this is not a Win7 problem – it is strictly e-mail related.  You said you stayed on, but you didn’t really say if your e-mail address stayed the same.  If it did not, then your problem most likely lies in your new account, but I’m guessing that you simply ported the entire e-mail account from OE to Outlook.  I’m also guessing that there’s really not anything that’s actually wrong with your account, but it’s (sorry to say) simple operator error.  The first thing I would do is log into Cox’s free webmail service, and see if all your missing e-mail is simply still sitting there on the server.  If it is, then you have Outlook misconfigured, and it will take much more information to fix your problem.  If there is no e-mail there, one of two things is happening.  Either Cox is indeed bouncing your messages (if this was happening, the sender should be getting a notification) or your Outlook is faithfully downloading the e-mail and putting it somewhere other than where you think it’s going.  Outlook uses a file with the extension of .PST to store e-mails that it downloads from the server.  The folders in the .PST file should be visible in the navigation pane on the left side of your Outlook window, and there should be one called Inbox, which contains all your downloaded e-mails.  You probably also have another folder called Inbox that is looking directly at the e-mail server, and finding nothing, because Outlook has downloaded all of it to your PC.  So look around the navigation bar for the proper Inbox, and I suspect you’ll find your lost mail.  If you can’t find anything, or if you find your e-mail isn’t configured properly, a call to Cox customer service is in order.

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