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Outlook’s email trap for the unwary JLB
22 August 2014

email edit

Many an email has gone to the wrong recipient because a sender has unwittingly accepted an incorrect auto-complete entry. For this reason, like many others, we encouraged all our users to disable auto-complete.

We also encouraged them to disable Outlook’s “Automatic name checking”. This feature resolves a partially completed name in the address fields if Outlook finds a match in any of the sender’s contacts.  

What we have found, however, is that with auto-complete and automatic name checking disabled, Outlook will still automatically resolve a partially completed name. It does not do this immediately but, scarily, it does it when you hit Send.

So say you accidentally enter the word “Billing” in the bcc field instead of the Subject field. And say one of your contacts has the name Billington. When you hit Send, Outlook will automatically resolve what you accidentally typed in the bcc field with your contact Billington’s email address.

You won’t know this until after the email has transmitted and you happen to check your sent mail. You might not even know it until your contact Billington asks why you have emailed them – possibly with sensitive information they were not meant to have.

It’s something to be aware of whatever you decide about enabling or disabling auto-complete and automatic name checking.  

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Caution: Even with name checking and auto-complete disabled, Outlook will still automatically resolve a partially completed name in the To, cc or bcc fields, when you hit Send. 

Note:

For the uninitiated, Outlook’s auto-complete list contains the email addresses (and display names) of people you have emailed previously. Outlook generates it automatically. If you enable auto-complete in your Outlook settings, Outlook will display a list of suggested recipients from your auto-complete list which match what you type in the To, cc or bcc  fields.

Here are some other tips to help you avoid emails being sent to the wrong recipient:

  • Delay send –  either for all emails or single emails. It gives the sender an opportunity to go back and review an email if they have an “oh oh” moment after hitting Send.
  • Mail tips – these pop up messages can be configured to display whenever particular conditions apply e.g. when users email an external recipient or send them an attachment.
  • Content analysis – (more sophisticated) processes that can scan outgoing emails for sensitive content  that must then go through a checking/approval process before they can be transmitted.

 

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  • Would like to tip about an alternative solution to the auto-complete problem. We are a law firm and we use a tool called SafeSend. It asks us for confirmation when we send external emails, this prevents users from selecting the wrong recipient using auto-complete.

    Posted by John S, 10/05/2015 8:20am (2 years ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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    Posted by Expert, 23/06/2015 5:55am (2 years ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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