REDMONT – In what its own executives call a “harsh step,” Microsoft plans to sharply limit the types of files that can be attached to e-mails in the next release of the company’s popular Outlook e-mail software. The move is aimed at reducing users’ vulnerability to computer viruses spread by e-mail attachments.
In Outlook XP, scheduled to go on sale May 31, 2001, as part of the updated Microsoft Office suite, more than 30 types of files will be rejected if users attempt to send them as e-mail attachments. These include programs or “exe” files, Windows Help files, Java and Visual Basic files and some graphic image and HTML files, according to Microsoft.
These are among the most popular files used by vandals to transmit computer viruses. But they are also routinely transmitted by software developers, computer-maintenance workers and by users who are communicating with software support or corporate help desks.
In large companies, which typically link desktop Outlook XP programs to a central mail server computer, administrators will be able to modify the program’s setting, allowing users to send and receive some or all of the restricted file types.
Individual users, however, will have a much more difficult time bypassing the default settings. Modifying the restrictions will require editing of the Windows Registry, a complex task beyond the abilities of most users. A mistake made in editing the Registry file can render the entire PC unusable. Microsoft will not release information on Registry edits until long after the new version of Outlook is released.
Microsoft has attempted to reduce users’ vulnerability to viruses by adding security features to updates of the versions of Outlook now on PCs. But very few users download and install these updates, the company told the CNET news service.
Security expert contacted by CNET noted that programmers and others who need to transmit files of the type restricted by the new version of Outlook have a simple alternative. These users can archive or compress the programs with a program like WinZip, and attach the compressed file.