Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

How did they get my e-mail?

Disable the Preview Pane For Safer Computing & Less Spam

A recent article on spam (e-mail) prompted a reader to send in this good question,

Q: “Hi Paul –
You wrote “don’t even open e-mail from unknown sources.. doing so can/will mark your e-mail address as a “live” person, …”.
How do we delete without opening a specific email message?   Even while deleting in bulk the first email in the highlighted selections opens.  I’m using Outlook Express.  Thanks for your help!

* What is being referred to is the feature common to e-mail clients called the “Preview Pane”.”


A: Dear Reader–
You’re correct that most webmail settings, and e-mail clients, (by default) have what is called a “preview pane”, which opens the first (topmost/most recent) e-mail in your Inbox, and shows you the first few lines of the e-mail. Yes.. this will trigger whatever the spammers/hackers are using to verify receipt (such as downloading an invisible jpeg). Because of this, I always turn the Preview Pane off.
To do this in OE, click on the View menu and select Layout.
Then in the Preview Pane Properties, uncheck the “Show preview pane” checkbox.

BTW– by exploring Properties/Options/Settings/Preferences (different names for the same thing), you can disable the preview pane in every e-mail viewer.. Hotmail, Thunderbird, etc.

Tip of the day: While many people find the preview window a convenient way to skim their incoming mail, using it automatically opens your machine up to security risks — especially if you are allowing HTML, and/or images, as the OE pictured above does — and tells anyone who’s interested that yes, is a valid address: suitable for spamming.
The spammers (and advertisers) collect lists of these validated addresses and sell them to each other.

I advise disabling the feature, and doing without the ’speed enhancement’ of previewing. Doing so will reduce the amount of spam you receive, improve your privacy, and close the door on one of the methods hackers can use to infect your machine.

Today’s free download: Open Office 3.0 A new version of very popular free office suite is now available. Support for Office 2007 formatting and improved PDF creation in Writer highlight the big additions for business users. A new Start Center provides a launching pad and makes it easier to switch between tools.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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June 5, 2009 - Posted by | advice, computers, e-mail, how to, spam and junk mail


  1. great advice TP. we had an instance at work a while ago that caused infiltration of a nasty virus that happened because of the preview pane being on.

    also, regarding open office, great program. i just started using it on my new build. i’m not exactly a power user here at home so i can’t really speak to that. it does everything i need it to do though! highly recommend. AND IT’S FREE!


    Comment by g | June 5, 2009 | Reply

    • G,
      Yes, in most cases (all?) a layout that includes a Preview pane is the default and very few people go to the trouble and turn it off — the badguys know this.


      Comment by techpaul | June 5, 2009 | Reply

  2. TechPaul,

    Excellent, excellent advice… Any machine I touch or help people with, the preview pane get’s turned off; AND often it is a PAIN to locate the setting to turn it “off”…



    Comment by Ramblinrick | June 5, 2009 | Reply

    • Good one there, Rick.

      Often it’s under the View menu, and sometimes you have to go into Settings — such as in webmail (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail).


      Comment by techpaul | June 5, 2009 | Reply

  3. Well, as stated, Thunderbird does have a Preview pane. However, it does not run scripts (which may tell them) or load images (which can also tell them), unless the sender is on your contacts list. You may safely keep it on (enabled), but all non-textual content from those who you do not know will not be shown. If you wish to see the images, you must click “Load Images” in the top right corner of the preview pane, or add the sender to your contacts list to automatically allow them.

    Honestly I do not prefer outlook because of the problems that it poses in terms of security.


    Comment by Kloplop321 | June 6, 2009 | Reply

    • also, and addendum for that:
      If the email is set to send a return notification that the email has been read, Thunderbird asks for your permission first, it is not automatic which can easily disclose your email as “live” user


      Comment by Kloplop321 | June 6, 2009 | Reply

      • Kloplop,
        Thunderbird is an excellent program. Many businesses are switching to it for the reasons you enumerated.


        Comment by techpaul | June 6, 2009 | Reply

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