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Email deletion bug baffles McAfee

Murder on the Outlook Express - Part II

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A glitch in McAfee's VirusScan software which 'disappears' email for Outlook Express users is more of a problem than it first appeared, the company says.

An intermittent problem involving the interaction of Windows 2000 or XP with McAfee VirusScan 4.5.1 and Outlook Express 6 means that the index file to existing email folders can become damaged when a user downloads new mail. In extreme cases folders are trashed - all users get is a message saying Welcome to Outlook Express 6 as if they were a new user.

The problem also affects Outlook Express 5.5 users, but to a lesser extent. The messages are still present in the .dbx file used by Outlook Express, but as the index is damaged, users can't read them from the email client itself.

Outlook users - or those of other email clients, such as Eudora - are unaffected.

This week, Jack Clark, product marketing manager from the McAfee division of Network Associates, told us (based on a short call to McAfee's UK support centre) the problem had been reported by just 12 of its 70 million users.

Since our original article he's received information that more people are affected, as has The Reg, which has received many emails both from sysadmins and from home users who say they have been hit by disappearing emails.

According to Clark, the issue is being treated as a "high priority". He acknowledged that a hot fix to VirusScan 4.5.1, which McAfee has previously supplied, does not solve the problem.

He said the problem has been difficult to fix as it is "difficult to reproduce... we acknowledge that some people are upset by this and are working hard to resolve it".

In the absence of a definitive fix, McAfee users suggest a variety of workarounds.

Users (who can) may decide to use a different email client or - if this is inconvenient - they may select the "Compact Messages In The Background" option in Outlook Express, which alleviates the problem.

Alternatively they can disable email scan, internet filter and download scan in McAfee virus scanner, leaving only system scan (which leaves mailboxes alone) working. This removes half the purpose of having AV software in the first place.

We've haven't tried these workarounds ourselves (nor tools which extract/recover emails from damaged Inbox files) so we can't vouch for their effectiveness. ®

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