Attack of the Killer E-mail

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If you use e-mail programs such as Microsoft's Outlook Express and Outlook 98 or Netscape Mail, you might want to be a bit more careful about opening your spam today. Both companies have acknowledged the existence of a serious security flaw in their programs that, according to tests, could allow hackers to mail viruses that will crash your computer or erase your hard drive. And if you think dumping messages straight in the trash keeps you safe, think again: The tests, conducted over the past month by Finnish researchers, showed that some viruses were activated by the very act of deleting -- even by simply receiving the mail.

Microsoft scrambled to cover up the code hole by posting a software patch on its web site Monday; trouble is, it didn't fix the problem. A working patch is expected from both Microsoft and Netscape soon. Advises TIME tech columnist Joshua Quittner, "If you use one of the affected mail programs, you have two choices: Stop using email, or get another program." Qualcomm, makers of Eudora, claim their software is unaffected. Word to the terrified: No such e-mail attack has been confirmed -- yet.