Sharky's e-mail inbox

You've Got Mail!

IT bosses rip out users' conventional e-mail clients and substitute a Web-based mail system. Trouble is, with the new Web clients, users can read only plain-text e-mail, so unreadable messages pile up. This organization's most prolific senders of now-unreadable messages? The IT bosses, who're still using the system they've banned for users.

Try, Try Again

Product manager sends an e-mail with an executable program file attached. He gets an automated reply: "Your e-mail was automatically deleted because it had an attachment that ended with .exe." It's a security thing, IT manager pilot fish explains, to protect against viruses and Trojan horse programs. Sure, I get it, responds the product manager. "But will it go through if I e-mail it again?"

The Wrong Choice

Users call the help desk to complain that it's taking forever to log on to the network, get their e-mail and download files. Pilot fish investigates. Turns out the whole department had gone to a conference and had shut down every system except a laptop with a 33.6K bit/sec. modem. Grumbles the fish, "Guess which machine had become the master browser?"

Aw C'mon, How Bad Could One Little E-Mail Be?

Network security manager at this large transportation company claims he can find any security leak in his network, reports a pilot fish who works there.

"Of course, the whole security shop is really run by a few techies who know how things work," fish says.

So on this fateful Friday afternoon, the security manager gets a call from a customer who claims to have a very small e-mail bomb that can bring down the whole company's e-mail system.

"There is no such thing," security manager decides, and tells the customer to send him the so-called e-mail bomb -- by e-mail.

One techie who overhears the conversation objects strenuously to the boss -- but he's wasting his breath. So he beats it back to the other security techs and brings them up to speed on what's about to arrive.

"They all decide that this is the right time to start the weekend and head for home," says fish.

So the customer sends the e-mail. And the moment it hits the company's central virus scanner, it does indeed crash the scanner -- and brings down the entire e-mail system.

And the security manager? "He doesn't even notice that his whole e-mail system went down," fish says. "A little while later he also heads home -- leaving this 24/7 company without e-mail for the whole weekend."

Road Rules

Tech-support pilot fish gets an urgent call from a traveling user who can't access his e-mail. "Can you set up a remote mailbox so I can read mail off-line?" the user asks. "No problem," says the fish. "Just dial into the e-mail server and download your mail." "No can do," says the user, "I'm at a pay phone at a rest stop on the interstate."

Who's Not There?

Marketing company's IT staff has to change the IP addresses of all its external hosts. To make sure everything goes smoothly, they trigger the changeover on a Saturday, so there's at least 24 hours for domain name servers (DNS) across the Internet to be updated. But Monday morning, calls start coming in from customers whose mail isn't getting through - apparently some DNS servers don't refresh every 24 hours after all. Agitated customer service rep folks go to the IT boss, demanding to know why they weren't warned - and, more important, exactly whose e-mail isn't getting through.

Considerably Confused, Indeed

E-mail admin pilot fish gets a stern memo from one of his company's managers:

"We have noticed that the names of two of my staff members -- John Doe and Peter Roe, who have resigned and left the company more than a month back -- continue to be seen in the Address Book.

"This causes a considerable confusion and results in important e-mails being addressed to these non-existent users.

"Please do the needful immediately, and ensure that the same is not repeated in the future."

And whose names are on the message's "cc:" line?

John Doe and Peter Roe.

But Look How Secure Their E-Mail Is Now

It takes three or four weeks to get a password reset at this government agency, says an IT pilot fish who works there. That's because all such requests must go through a national data center that handles all the offices of this agency.

So after fish e-mails a dozen password reset requests, he's not surprised he doesn't hear anything for a month. "Then I receive an e-mail that said, 'All future ID requests must be submitted via fax. This is to enhance security and speed up turnaround time.'"

So fish prints out the form attached to the e-mail message, fills it out by hand for each of the dozen employees whose passwords need to be reset, tracks them down for their signatures, tracks their managers down for their signatures, explains to everyone why they still can't get into their e-mail, and finally sends the forms on their way via fax.

"Four weeks after faxing the forms, there's still no confirmation that the passwords have been reset," fish says. "I e-mail and ask what the status is.

"I get back a terse message saying they 'have been received' and that they were 'passed along to the responsible parties.'

"Finally, two weeks later -- this is nine weeks after the initial e-mail to get the passwords reset -- I receive an e-mail with the users' new passwords."

Fish personally visits each of the dozen affected employees, explains why it has taken so long, walks each one through setting up a new password and makes sure a written copy of each new password goes in the user's wallet for future reference.

Finally, the password episode is done. Right?

"Not even two weeks later, the same dozen employees are calling me, asking why they can't get into their e-mail," fish says.

"I check my own e-mail and find a message from the data center helpfully stating, 'The following users' passwords have been reset...'

"Attached is a copy of the original e-mail I sent before I was told to send faxes instead!"

Special Report

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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