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Anti-malware software can interfere with email such that email disappears immediately, or other features of the email program stop working or worse.

I have a problem with Outlook Express. Ever since I renewed my anti-virus subscription my Outlook Express mail rule no longer works. I had all my contacts highlighted in specific colors. When the emails are being received the colors show and then after revert back to the default which is of course black. I have Outlook Express 6 and Internet Explorer 7. Any suggestions as to why this is happening. Could it be my anti-virus provider? Or a setting in Outlook Express? I've tried everything until I'm blue in the face.

I get variations on this question all the time. The symptoms in this example are actually rather mild - much more common are mails that are downloaded and then immediately disappear. It can also happen across a wide variety of email programs as well.

There is a common thread, though. In fact, the question above alludes to it. (And it has nothing to do with the color of your face Smile.)

It's very possible that anti-virus, or rather anti-malware software is at fault.

The problem is that many anti-malware packages - particularly the security suites that try to do many things - often include a feature whereby they will scan email as you download it. There's really no facility for this kind of intrusion built into the way that email is handled, so different anti-malware tools insert themselves into the process in different ways.

"You may end up with that classic computer phrase 'unexpected results' ..."

Sometimes those "different ways" can interfere with what your email program is expecting. You may end up with that classic computer phrase "unexpected results" - which is just a fancy way of saying "we don't know what'll happen, but it probably won't be good".

The good news is that most anti-malware tools allow you to control whether they scan email, and often just how intrusive they should be. In other words, you can turn it off.

The bad news is that there's no common terminology to look for.

If you're experiencing problems with missing messages or for that matter any kind of odd behaviour with your desktop email program, one of the first things to do is to fire up your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and look for options related to email processing. Terms to look for include "email", of course, but also thing like "phishing", "scam", and perhaps technologies like "POP3" and/or "IMAP". It's worth spending a few minutes with the documentation for those programs to make sure you've got the email-related services turned off.

In fact, I heard back from the person who originally posted the question above, and sure enough...

Thank you for your input. Its' not the firewalls as I discovered today. It's McAfee's email configuration under "Email Toolbars". They have an anti-spam toolbar which showed up in my OE when I renewed my subscription. I went to my email applications in their program where it says "Display the anti-spam toolbar in these email programs" and unchecked "Microsoft Outlook Express/Windows Mail". The toolbar disappeared the next time I opened OE and my message rule was activated. I suppose it was put there by default. I am now a happy camper."

Now, it's natural to ask "am I putting myself at greater risk by turning off my anti-virus program's email security features?"

Yes, no and maybe.

First, realize that I recommend turning them off as a diagnostic step. If doing so doesn't resolve the problem you're having, then after all is said and done (ideally after the problem is resolved), feel free to turn them back on.

Second, in many cases active email scanning is somewhat redundant, or can be accomplished in other ways. For example, scanning attachments can be done on disk after your email has been received, and may even be caught by a regular full disk scan - the only difference being timing.

Finally, all the protection in the world is no substitute for common sense and education when it comes to email. Even when on, you still need to remain vigilant to avoid the latest malware, phishing attempts and scams.

Personally, when offered, I always turn off intrusive email scanning in any malware tool I use or manage, both to avoid problems and to reduce the complexity and potential for performance impact.

Article C3883 - October 3, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Albert L.
October 6, 2009 1:41 PM

In regard to saving email - I personally don't currently employ any antispam programs on my computer... (I had a very bad experience with another anti-spam / antivirus program, similar to the one you describe). I couldn't find a way to stop it from blocking legitimate email. When going through the FAQ's and contacting them didn't help, I uninstalled the program. Now what I do is open my email in the Verizon site, and use their spam filter to block the spam. (Verizon lets some spam through, but never blocks legit email). Then I close the window, and open Outlook Express, and read spam-free email. Then I can safely file my email to folders. At the end of the month, I highlight and drag the folders to a folder in My Documents labelled "email (adding the name of the month, and the year). This works for me. Please note that this is NOT a plug for Verizon, they are my internet service provider. I'd guess that other providers offer the same type of service as well.
Albert L.

Balthazar
October 7, 2009 8:02 PM

For those who have not heard Leo on New York City radio - Oct. 7, 2009
http://archive.wbai.org/files/mp3/091007_200001pcs.MP3

Megan
May 27, 2010 3:58 PM

Leo.... You are a dream find! I have been struggling for almost a week trying to fix my Outlook that wouldn't stay open.

I tried system restore, scans, forums with other's advice, etc. I found your website and within minutes you solved my problem. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! You have given me such relief and easy to follow instructions on how to fix problem.
Yay!

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