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Protecting your e-mail list from viruses

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Most companies worry about lost productivity when considering e-mail security, according to a new report from Aberdeen Group, “The Ins and Outs of Email Vulnerability.” But they should also be thinking about what a virus or bot—even if it doesn’t originate on their server—could do to their customer and prospect relationships, said Carol Baroudi, research director at Aberdeen.

Viruses can turn servers and PCs into bots, which can then be controlled remotely for illegal or damaging purposes, such as sending out more viruses or attempting to steal personal information. While viruses have been around for decades, today, computers can become infected even if there is a virus-scan program running.

So how can companies protect their network—and the people to whom they send e-mail? The first level of protection has to start with the IT staff, Baroudi said.

“You have to ask, ‘What protections do we have in place to make sure our e-mail isn’t infected in any way, shape or form?’ Also ask what they are doing to make sure your network doesn’t get infected from a botnet, because botnets get through spam filters and sometimes get through virus filters.”

Baroudi said companies also need something on the browser side that’s making sure the URL displayed is the site the user is really visiting. Most browsers’ newest versions have warnings that will pop up and tell users that the site they’re navigating is suspicious, she said.

To educate recipients of e-mail marketing messages, marketers may want to inform readers about botnet threats, warning them to be on the lookout for e-mail that comes to them with the marketer’s name on it but links to a suspicious site.

Baroudi said marketers can also mitigate some of the risk by using an e-mail service provider to send e-mail marketing messages because most large services are vigilant about keeping viruses and botnets off their networks.

What can companies do if their network is infected and they’ve sent out a virus to their e-mail list? Send out another message immediately via an uninfected e-mail account warning them of the dangers, Baroudi said. But don’t expect that message to be greeted with open arms, she added.

“You’re going to need to send out an e-mail, but they’re probably not going to want to hear from you. A better option is not getting infected to begin with, which can put your entire brand at risk.” She added: “An e-mail list is a prized possession. You need to do everything you can to safeguard that list.”

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