When you go on vacation, you probably take several precautions to make sure your home looks lived in. You want to hide the fact that your house is empty so strangers can't take advantage of you. Yet you'd be amazed how many people put out the No One is Minding the Store sign when it comes to their personal information and business dealings.
Microsoft Outlook, and several other email applications, have features that allow you to create instant notifications to let the people who send you email know that you're not around. With Outlook, you do need to be using Exchange Server to enable this feature. But many large companies do use Exchange. The feature is designed to make it quick and easy to use and many businesses use it.
You're about to leave for a wonderful vacation. Before you run screaming from the office you take a moment to click a few buttons in your email and you type out your personal Gone Fishing message, such as...Hi, thanks for your email. This is Dian Chapman, Lead Network System Administrator for MouseTrax Computing Solutions. Sorry, I'll be out of the office all week on a ski vacation. But if you need help, you can contact Greg Chapman at [his email] or he can be reached at [his cell phone].
Seems innocent enough, right. And I'm sure you've all done something similar...in fact I know that many, many of you do this or even provide much more personal information about yourself and your business. How do I know this, because during the holidays when I sent out over 9,000 TechTrax subscriber notices for the new issue, I received back about 1,500 Out of the Office auto replies.
I now had A LOT of personal information about people and their companies.
Consider this...if I was a spammer or boogie man who wanted to use this information for evil, I could fairly easily search on the information you provided me to most likely find your home address. And now I know that you are away all week skiing...and probably not in your backyard. So your house is most likely empty or the parents aren't home. If you're head honcho of a big corporation, you probably have a nice house, with lots of stuff I can go swipe.
Or more likely, I now know that the top network admin is away. And when the cat's away, want to make a bet that the mice are playing and close attention is probably not being paid to your corporate network. As Greg Chapman (senior network administrator and good guy hacker) said to me...when I explained how amazed I was at the amount of information people are willing to provide strangers in their auto replies..."Well, I guess we have a nice list of all the companies that could easily be hacked!" Of course, Greg wouldn't attempt that. But there are a lot of people out there who would. And as someone in charge of security, he was blown away at how much information we now had about so many companies!
What really made me giggle about some of the auto replies was that first they gave out all this personal info about who they are, what they will be doing, who to contact at the office, and a pile of email and cell phone details. Then the message closed with two paragraphs explaining...Use of email is inherently insecure. Confidential information,
including account information, and personally identifiable information,
should not be transmitted via email, or email attachment.
This email message is confidential and/or privileged. It is to be used
by the intended recipient only. Use of the information contained in
this email by anyone other than the intended recipient is strictly
prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please notify
the sender immediately and promptly destroy any record of this email."
Okay, we know some legal eagle made you add that to all emails to cover the corporate butt...but it is pretty funny that there's a ton of security warning info in an email that is being sent to everyone who could have possibly emailed this person...including spammers, hackers, spyware senders, and, of course, all those people in Nigeria who have money for you!
<sarcasm>I'm sure they'll realize they shouldn't have all this personal information and will immediately destroy it! </sarcasm>
So what's the solution? It's actually pretty simple. Just take a few minutes to create yourself one or two, or more if needed, email templates. To save an email as a template, just click File > Save As and click the drop down in the Save As dialog box and select Outlook Template. Now you can create various Rule so certain people get certain replies, depending on the rules you set. It won't take much time and most of the work will only need to be set up once, then reused as needed.
In Outlook, open a blank email. Type a message. Keep in mind the audience who will get this message. You might want to create one for in-house staff with more complete details, such as project names and cell phones. Then possibly another for clients or others who might email you. And just ignore everyone else.
You should have all your in-house staff in your email. You can create a distribution group with all their email addresses. Call this one OfficeStaff. Then create another with important client emails and call this Clients. Maybe add one for Family/Friends, if there is a chance someone in that group might email you while you're away.
You can then create a Rule in Outlook that simply says...when anyone from this group emails me, send this reply. If someone from this other group should email me, send this other reply.
If you need further details about creating custom Rule responses, read these articles: Make an Out of Office AutoResponder, using Outlook *Without* Exchange and Creating Outlook Rules
Granted, this method won't be fool-proof, so you may miss an email here or there. But, unless you're in a sales department where you never know who will be emailing you, it probably won't be a vital email that is sitting, waiting. However, if you are in such a position, then maybe it would be wise to create a rule that forwards emails to a trusted colleague. You can create a rule that forwards emails, but set an exception saying Except if the email is sent from [whomever].
As you can see in the image below, I've created a rule that says...
- After an email arrives
- If it was addressed only to me (meaning is may be important and would just sit, if not forwarded)
- Forward it to Greg
- Except if it is from the TechTrax Author's group*
* Note that Outlook won't actually allow you to add the group name. But you'll see a warning/option that will ask if you want to add all the email addresses of the people in that group. Say yes.
Granted, I'll probably have to bribe Greg with lunch to handle all my email while I'm away, since he may also get hit with all my spam. So make sure you discuss this with someone before you pass off your email to them.
There are many options in Outlook's Rules. Take a little time to review them and consider all your options.
Back 'Em Up
And once you've created all your wonderful new rules, be sure to back them up. Click Tools > Rules and Alerts and click Options. From there you can click Export to save the Rules file to some safe location. Then, should you trash Outlook at some point in the future, you can import all your rules back.
It doesn't take long to setup this type of system and it is a lot better than telling the whole world your personal business!