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Issue #69: November 16, 2008

Q: If you have the preview pane open on Outlook Express, does the e-mail consider it read (thus opening attachments) if it is previewed?  I seem to remember Express had that issue back in the mid-90s (we got hit with a virus in Spain because the message was previewed), but I am unsure if Microsoft has addressed that issue.

– David C.
Patuxent River, MD

A: The preview pane can mark messages as read, but it does not launch attachments automatically.  Consider if you had an MS Word document attached to an e-mail.  If the attachment opened automatically, each time you previewed the mail, Word would launch.


That said, it is possible in some circumstances to embed malicious code in HTML-formatted e-mail.  In that case, previewing the message could very well cause a problem.  However, I believe the modern versions of Outlook coupled with a good virus scanner offer protection against that kind of attack.

Q: I have 15 hard drives that I want to have the data deleted from, even the OS.  I did find a small and obscure company in Fort Walton Beach that can do this for me.  They use this government/military process for classified type systems and hold DoD Certifications.  My questions are: What is NISPOM, and what does Department of Defense 5220.22-M disk-sanitizing mean? How many times does a drive have to be overwritten to be considered Wiped?

– Scott M.
Fort Walton Beach, FL

A: Good questions Scott!  You obviously have an interest in computer security, particularly from the Department of Defense standpoint.  For the answers to the first part of your question, I turned to Donna Fowler, who manages the award-winning security program at Control Systems Research, Inc, where I work.  She said, “The NISPOM is the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual and it guides the industry in the protection of classified information.  Depending on the disposition of the drives after wiping and the data they previously contained, using this standard is most likely overkill.”  The DoD Standard you mentioned is only a “medium” level of security, by the way.  To sanitize a disk, it specifies three iterations of writing 1’s and 0’s over the entire surface of a hard drive, for a total of six writes.  This is followed by the government-designated code “246” which is then verified by a final read-verify process.  You can get free or low-cost utilities off the Internet that will perform such comprehensive disk wipes for you.  Google “Disk Wipe” for more information.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Speed vs. Dirt: Did you know that a build-up of dirt and dust can actually make your computer run slower?  Your computer’s CPU has a built-in temperature sensor, and if things get too hot it throttles back its speed, thereby using less electricity, and generating less heat.  To keep your system running at optimum speed, be sure to periodically clean the dust off your system’s cooling fins, and make sure all fans are operating properly.  You may have fans in or on the power supply, in the case walls, and even on the CPU itself. 

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