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spike bullet April 2005 - Computer Etiquette

E-mail etiquette
Spam, Viruses and other "Malware"
Definitions: Spam, Adware, Spyware, etc.
What can you do?
Corporate/Company Internet Use Policies
Resources (links, books, articles, humor)

color bulletRules of the Road: Internet Highway Etiquette

One of the challenges we face in the increasing use of computers and electronic devices is de-personalization and our human frustration with using machines.  

In this age of high tech, we find an even greater need to be concerned with the human needs of people using computers.  High tech requires high touch to offset the de-humanizing impact of interacting with machines instead of people.  

This may require additional sensitivity for trainers, more humor in computer manuals, user friendly interfaces and intuitive key stroke commands in software programs.

Along with the increased use of electronic mail (e-mail) and public bulletin boards, rules have developed for computer etiquette with some interesting sign language to add humanness to the communications process.

E-mail etiquette

  1. Donít use ALL CAPS for messages.  
    All capital letters seems to indicate that you are SCREAMING at someone.
  2. Be very careful with humor.
    Humorous comments may be taken offensively when seen only in words, particularly sarcasm or puns.  If youíre smiling or telling a joke, clearly transmit this fact firstResearch studies have shown that words alone comprise only 7% of our communication process.  The other 93% consists of: voice qualities (tone, pitch, volume, speed, intensity, emotion), body language and other non-verbal clues.
  3. Be extra careful about spelling and grammar. 
    Leaving out the word not totally changes your message.  Sloppy spelling, grammar and punctuation destroy your professional image.  
    People who cannot write, spell or type should stay away from e-mail or take classes to improve their writing skills.  Otherwise, they risk losing the respect of their co-workers and customers.  
    People who cannot control themselves or their emotions also should not use e-mail as it can get them into a great deal of trouble very quickly.
  4. Use polite and courteous language. 
    Say Please, Thank you and Have a nice day.  On some systems, you can have a customized positive sign-off message - use it !!
  5. Be courteous and conscious of the otherís time. 
    If your system beeps someone every time they get a message, donít keep sending messages if they donít respond immediately.  Maybe theyíre working on a rush project and you are interrupting them, maybe their system is turned off, or maybe theyíve just had a crisis develop.
  6. Respect each individualís right to privacy. 
    Some people are simply afraid of using an e-mail system because of computer phobia, fear of monitoring, weak communications skills or role-related anxieties (itís beneath their position).   Maybe they canít control their own emotional reactions and outbursts.  Whatever it is, some people simply may not use it as much or as well as others.
  7. Make your messages short and clear. 
    Sometimes this requires leaving white space or multiple blank lines between sentences.  Donít overload someone.  If you have very lengthy messages, maybe they should be delivered another way.  Usually, more than one screen full (24 lines) is becoming excessive; more than 3 pages is overload.
  8. Indicate your feelings and emotions. 
    The most popular symbols for emotions are called "Emoticons" (see examples later in the Fun section)  They make more sense if you look at them sideways.
  9. Don't say something you wouldn't want your boss to see.
    Do not sent questionable or potentially offensive jokes to co-workers.  Many companies have policies again chain letters so be sure you know the policy where you work.  
    Respect your friends and keep them out of trouble ó don't send questionable material to their work e-mail addresses
  10. Keep your personal e-mail personal.
    Don't send or accept personal e-mail to your workplace e-mail.  Most companies and public agencies have security systems that can tell when you are using the e-mail system in inappropriate ways.  People do get fired for using those systems for personal use or sending offensive material.  

Spam, Viruses and other Malware

A worldwide problem exists with spam e-mail.  Laws have been passed in the United States and in other countries to reduce the abuse of the Internet caused by people who send millions of unwanted e-mails.  Several recent high-profile cases have sent the spammers to jail or charged them very large fines.  Spam hurts everyone who uses the Internet because it clogs e-mail servers and frustrates people who use e-mail responsibly when they have to delete 1/2 or more of their e-mail because it's spam.  

Unwanted spam e-mails may contain advertising, offensive material, viruses, ad-ware, spy-ware or simply clog up the mail servers and people's inboxes. 


Spam or Junk e-mail is unwanted e-mail usually sent in bulk to many people.  The sender may use someone else's e-mail address to make it harder to identify them.  Sending spam violates most Internet service providers' policies. 

A Virus (or Trojan or Worm) is an unwanted software program that may damage your computer or cause your computer to do something that you did not request, such as sending out e-mail to everyone your address book without your knowledge or infecting others with viruses. 

Adware is software that is downloaded without the user's permission when they visit certain websites. 

Spyware is software that can collect your keystrokes, including your login ID, password, credit card numbers and bank account numbers if you enter those online.  Spyware sometimes sends your personal information to someone else who may use it to steal your identity as well as your money or assets.  Spyware might also search your computer for private information and sent it to someone else. 

Malware is a general term used to describe Adware, Spyware, Viruses, Trojans, etc.  

Phishing is e-mail or a website uses steals the name of a reputable company ó such as a bank or well-known online service ó to fool you into giving the thief your personal information.  For example, you may get an e-mail that seems to be from your bank or an online service asking you to verify your bank account number or password.  The e-mail may use the real bank's logo and look just like it came from them.  The goal is to fool you into giving your private information so your identity, bank account or credit card number can be stolen.

A Firewall is a software or hardware device that acts like a screen on your window.  It keeps out unwanted "stuff" and prevents someone from attaching directly to your computer from another remote computer.  The latest version of Windows XP includes a built-in firewall.  Other software is available, such as ZoneAlarm.  The newest versions of major anti-virus software programs include firewall protection. 

What can you do?

Most average computer users are not well prepared to deal with Adware, Spyware, Phishing or Spam.  If you work for a company or non-profit agency, contact your Help Desk or Technical Support staff for help if you suspect you are receiving spam or your computer might have adware or spyware.  They will usually have special programs that can check your computer for viruses, adware, spyware, trojans and other unwanted software.  If your computer is running very slowly or programs are crashing regularly, you may have adware or spyware that is taking all of your computer's resources for itself without your knowledge.

To protect against spam, be very careful about how you and your employees give out their e-mail addresses.  If you use newsgroups or post messages to public websites, make sure you use an alternate e-mail address as these are prime targets for automated programs that harvest e-mail addresses then sell them to spammers.  Alternate or disposable e-mail addresses can be obtained at any of the free e-mail services.  You can change these addresses without jeopardizing the security of your business.

Be especially careful about opening attachments to e-mail.  Before opening any attachment, be absolutely sure you know what it is and that you know the person sending it.  If you are not sure, write back to them and ask them what they sent you before opening the attachment.

Just because an e-mail has a familiar name, doesn't mean it's really from that person.  The newer viruses steal e-mail addresses and use them to fool people into opening malicious attachments.  Many corporate servers and some Internet service providers have the ability to block the most common types of harmful attachments. 

Some companies have spam e-mail filters that will block known junk mail before it gets to you.  Some programs allow you to flag each send of spam so that any future e-mail from them will be deleted.  There are also programs such as Mailwasher that review your mail on the server before you read it and can be programmed to identify spam for you automatically.  You can flag your "friends" so their e-mail is saved for you.    

For your home or office computer, be sure you have an up-to-date anti-virus program.  Major vendors of good virus programs include Norton and McAfee.  These can be purchased online or at business supply stores.  The newest versions include protection against the worst forms of Spyware.  

Newer web browsers ó such as Firefox ó have some built-in features to block malicious programs when you visit websites.  Microsoft's Internet Explorer version 6.0 with Windows XP Service Pack 2 contains a built-in pop-up ad blocker that can prevent obnoxious ads, which sometimes lead people to websites with spyware. 

Many malware programs target known security weaknesses in Microsoft products, seeking computers that do not have the latest updates installed.  Using an alternate browser (such as Firefox or Opera), and alternate e-mail programs (such as Netscape, Mozilla or Thunderbird) can prevent disaster for home computers.  Even some large companies are using alternate programs to reduce their security risks.  

Corporate/Company Internet Use Policies

Most large companies and non-profit organizations have Internet Use policies.  These describe what employees may and may not do in using the company's Internet service and e-mail services.  Many also use special filters to protect employees from being exposed to offensive websites or material not appropriate to the workplace.  

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also have "Acceptable Use Policies" for their customers.   

Many companies and non-profit agencies have fired employees for inappropriate use of the Internet or e-mail.  Be sure you know the policies where you work before sending personal e-mail or visiting websites that might get you in trouble.  

Some examples of Internet Use policies are in the Resources section of this article. 

World Wide Web graphic  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon. 

  • Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People, P.J. O'Rourke [very funny book].  Atlantic Monthly Press; Reprint edition, 1990,  ISBN: 087113375X
  • Spam Wars: Our Last Best Chance to Defeat Spammers, Scammers & Hackers, Danny Goodman.  O'Reilly; 2004. ISBN: 0596007329
  • Real U Guide to Identify Theft, Frank W. Abagnale [The movie, Catch Me If You Can, was based on his life.].  Real U Guides, 2004.  ISBN: 1932999019
  • The Art of Intrusion : The Real Stories Behind the Exploits of Hackers, Intruders & Deceivers, Kevin D. Mitnick, William L. Simon.  John Wiley & Sons, 2005.  ISBN: 0764569597

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter article:
November 2000 - Effective Written Communication

  Software Products

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  


:)    Happy Smiley -- the most common!!

:-)   Basic Smiley.  This Smiley is used to inflect a sarcastic or joking statement since we canít hear voice inflection over the computer network.

:-(   Frowning Smiley.  User did not like that last statement or is upset or depressed about something.

:-I   Indifferent Smiley.  Better than a Frowning Smiley but not quite as good as a Happy Smiley

:-o    Wow!

:-C    Just totally unbelieving

:-* Oops!

:-T     Keeping a straight face

;-)     Sardonic Incredulity

:-D     Said with a smile

:-#     My lips are sealed

:-X     Userís lips are sealed

8-|     Eyes wide with surprise

|-{     "Good Grief!" (Charlie Brown?)

:-,     "Hmmmm."

:^D     "Great!  I like it!"

Here are some somewhat less common ones:

(-:     User is left handed

%-)     User has been staring at a green screen for 15 hours straight

[:]     User is a robot

8-)     User is wearing sunglasses

B:-)     Sunglasses on head

::-)     User wears normal glasses

B-)     User wears horn-rimmed glasses

:-*     User just ate something sour

:-0     No Yelling! (Quiet Lab)

:-!     User has foot in mouth!

:-!≠     User has BOTH feet in mouth!

Note: A lot of these can be typed without noses to make midget Smileys.  

This list has been edited to include only  corporate-appropriate symbols

Source: Collected from various bulletin boards.  

About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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