- e-mail only systems
E-mail is a low-cost way to create an
extranet and connect with your clients.
You do not need a web site - you simply need
to be able to send and receive e-mail.
This page discusses some of the mainstream e-mail only options and the key
issues that you will need to consider if you want to merge your e-mail based
extranet seamlessly with your in-house systems. Topics include:
There are limitations to e-mail technology, but this does not matter if an
e-mail-only system lets you achieve your objectives.
Automating your e-mail extranet functions will save you time and
(and of course errors). A basic system can be quickly set up at a low
cost (FREE!!). Even a sophisticated and automated e-mail only extranet system
shouldn't cost more than $1000-$2000 to set up - and most of this will be
training and set up rather than software. You should recoup your investment in a
few weeks due to time savings and the elimination of processing errors.
A 100% automatic e-mail only extranet should be capable of performing the following tasks:
- checking for new e-mail messages at user-defined times
- downloading e-mail messages automatically
- separating and (optionally) decrypting files attached to e-mail messages
- identifying who sent e-mail and storing this information outside of the
- storing a copy of e-mail messages outside of the e-mail system
- (optionally - and depending on rules you define) sending confirmation
messages to senders
- (optionally - and depending on rules you define) forwarding messages to
In addition to being 100% automated, note we are recommending stripping out ALL of the
information contained in the e-mail message. This means that the contents are
available to external programs, and therefore more complete system automation is
For example, e-mail attachments might be files from customers that can be
automatically imported into your Sales Order Entry system. The e-mail address and the message contents could be automatically added to your CRM (Customer
Relationship Management) software, or automatically tie the message to an
existing customers' record in your CRM system.
E-mail Software Considerations
Not surprisingly different e-mail clients have different automation
The most widely used e-mail
"client" is Outlook Express - it comes free with Microsoft Explorer.
Outlook Express is best suited to single-user systems.
Although it is very popular, Outlook Express "embeds" attachments
within the mail message. (Attachments are files you send along
with your e-mail message. The files can be anything - pictures, documents,
databases. Anyone who can intercept your e-mail message can view your
attachments as well - UNLESS your message is encrypted.)
With Outlook Express, when you receive a message with an
attachment you have to save the attachment as a separate file using a
"File Save As" procedure. While this is not an issue for personal
mail, but from a business point of view it takes time and money, and is
Another issue with Outlook Express is
Hackers seem to specifically target Outlook
Express, and although Microsoft and Anti-Virus software publishers do their
best, Outlook Express is consistently a target.
To summarise, although
Outlook Express is free, the downsides are:
- automation features are
- attachments are embedded
- it is a favourite target for hackers
Pegasus Mail and Eudora Mail are
two FREE products that can overcome
the shortcomings of Outlook Express. If you
are going to operate your e-business extranet without a web server, you should check
out both of these packages.
Alternatively, you should consider
upgrading from Outlook Express to Microsoft Outlook.
How to automatically
extract e-mail attachments from Outlook Express and MS-Outlook
EMU (EMail Utility) overcomes one
of the shortcomings of Outlook Express (and it's big brother/sister
With one click on a desktop icon you
can "detach" embedded files from your e-mail and save them in a folder
of your choice.
EMU is US$22. A
demonstration version can be downloaded from http://www.download.com.
EMU saves you time and makes sure that
you can clearly identify ALL e-mail attachments.
EMU can be automated by using the free
Task Scheduler that comes with Windows. You can set up multiple sets of rules
which means that you can save different types of files into different
To summarise, if you want to
continue to use Outlook Express AND automatically link your e-mail system
with your in-house systems, then EMU and Task Scheduler will do the job
Security - low-cost
firewalls, anti-virus, and encryption
Security is an integral part of your
You need to build in safeguards that
protect you from:
- malicious hackers who might want to
take over your in-house computer
- viruses that arrive via e-mail or
via programs you install on your PC
- people seeing sensitive messages
between you and your customers
A class of software called "Firewall"
software protects you from hackers. Not all firewall software is equal. We use ZoneAlarm. This software runs silently in the background
monitoring your Internet sessions. If it detects an unauthorised program trying
to access the Internet, or someone trying to access your machine via the
Internet, it will let you know. Unlike some firewall systems, ZoneAlarm does not
interfere with your day to day operations. Click here to download a FREE trial
of version of ZoneAlarm.
Anti-Virus software protects you
from rogue scripts or programs that at the very least can disrupt your day - and
at the very worst destroy the contents of your computer. Most viruses are spread
via e-mail. There are many anti-virus packages available - most of which you can
update each week via the Internet to keep your protection current. Our preferred
package is Norton Anti-Virus. Although the Norton Anti-Virus is not a free
product, it is worth its' weight in gold. (Even if you are using Anti-Virus software, NEVER open
e-mail attachments with the extension .VBS. Visual Basic Scripts are commonly
used by virus authors).
Encryption software options are
many and varied. Most packages require you and the person sending you the e-mail
to have the same encryption software. A mainstream option is PGP (http://www.pgp.com). Pegasus Mail users need PGP as well as a plug-in called QDPGP.
Another option is to encrypt just attachments. DataSAFE lets you encrypt
MS-Windows files and send them via the Internet WITHOUT the recipient need the
program installed. The one-off cost is less than $US30. See http://www.data-encryption.com
The simplest option is to automatically - and dynamically - encrypt data
files using WinZip (http://www.winzip.com)
or PKZip (http://www.pkware.com) . To improve security you could use a
different password for every message you encrypt - although this might become a
About the only downside to using WinZip or PKZip is that they are not a 100% secure solution -
even with different passwords each week.
The WinZip Help files states: "WinZip® uses the industry standard Zip 2.0 encryption format. Password protecting files in a Zip file provides a measure of protection against casual users who don't have the password and are trying to determine the contents of your files. The Zip 2.0 encryption format, however, is not as secure as DES and the RSA public key formats used by programs such as PGP, and does not provide absolute protection against determined individuals with advanced cryptographic tools."
However, cracking files encrypted WinZIP or PKZip files - even with code cracking tools
- is a time consuming process. Also, it is unlikely that anyone
"sniffing" for information packets would consider cracking a WinZip or
PKZip file - they are after easier offerings - like unprotected credit card numbers
being sent via e-mail (Don't EVER send your credit card details via e-mail - if
you must, then break the credit card number up into 4 seperate e-mails and send
each e-mail seperately).
To summarise - for day to day business encrypted WinZip or PKZip are likely to be just
fine - especially if you keep changing passwords. But, if you need the more
protection, use a PGP compatible product or DataSAFE.
Incoming e-Mail Data Attachments Automatically
Once e-mail attachments and
information contained within the body of e-mail messages are separated from your e-mail system,
you can then process them using other in-house software. (See the notes on EMU
for how to automate this).
Your ability to automate the complete process is dependent on many
factors - for example data compatibility, whether your in-house system can
automatically import new orders, etc., but you can create efficient and
automated extranet systems using just e-mail.
options | Brochureware
Sites | Database-driven