Email: Use plain text

September 4, 2009

A workshop article titled 20 steps to a Fort Knox PC in the July 2009 issue of Australian Personal Computer (APC) had this advice listed as #12:

Turn off HTML

It might be pretty but you really should turn off HTML mail in your email client. In the bad old days, it was easy to spread malware via email because programs such as Microsoft’s Outlook Express had HTML switched on and ran any embedded JavaScript.

Times have changed, but spammer’s haven’t. They’re still very interested in knowing if your address is active, and all they need to gain that knowledge is for you to read an HTML email. This is because HTML allows for the inclusion of remotely stored images.

When accessed from the spammer’s server by rendering an HTML email, he instantly knows that you’ve read his message and your address is active. He can then either spam you again, or as is more likely, sell your address along with millions of others to other fraudsters.

Here’s how you turn off HTML email in Outlook  2003 (the process for Outlook 2007 should be very similar):

  1. Go to Tools > Options > Preferences tab.
  2. Click the E-mail Options button.
  3. Select the Read all standard mail in plain text check box.
  4. Click OK.


Other settings to consider:

  1. To send email in plain text, go to Tools > Options > Mail Format tab.
  2. Change the Compose in this message format to Plain HTML.
    Outlook: Change the email message format to Plain Text
  3. While you’re at it, turn off the check boxes for using Microsoft Word to edit or read email messages (unless you REALLY need this).
  4. Click OK.

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