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Troubleshooting Q&A - July 7, 2005

Why E-mails Come With No Attachments Attached

Microsoft's increased Outlook security features restrict access to attached programs and file types that could contain viruses. If you find this annoying, you can disable the restrictions. We tell you how, but warn you to do so cautiously.

By Ron Pacchiano

Q. I use Microsoft Outlook 2003 for sending and receiving e-mail. While I've used other e-mail clients in the past, in my opinion, Outlook is far superior to them. Unfortunately, it's not perfect and I do have one particular problem with it that I find especially annoying.

It doesn't happen all of the time, but every once in a while I'll receive an e-mail that should have a file attached to it, but doesn't. For some unknown reason this attachment would mysteriously not arrive with the e-mail even though we know for sure that the file had been properly attached before sending it. For example, one evening I was having a problem with my system and a friend of mine tried e-mailing me a shareware utility to correct the problems I was describing. He must have attempted to send me that utility at least half of dozen times before we finally gave up on it. He then had to spend the next 40 minutes tracking down the site where he had originally found downloaded the file from and just ended up e-mailing me the link. This was particularly frustrating for us because he was able to send me other files, like Word documents and Zip files, but not the utility that I so desperately needed.

Since first discovering this problem, I've spoke about it with a few of my more technically savvy friends and have discovered that this "problem" is actually a security feature built into Outlook to help prevent the accidental download of viruses or Trojans. Nevertheless, I still find this feature to be irksome at times and was curious to know if there is anyway I could go about disabling it. I understand why it does what it does, but it can be very irritating at times and can hamper my productivity at times. Thanks for your help.

A. Over the past few years, Microsoft has really increased Outlook security by restricting access to attached programs and file types that might possible contain viruses, Trojan horses or similar threats. With the rampant proliferation of viruses, password stealers and the constant threat of identity theft, this has become a necessary reality. Despite my personal distaste for it, its existence is justified and I would rather deal with the minor inconvenience this entails than attempt to work without it, but to each his own.

Besides, you're not alone in your dislike for this feature. According to many of the IT directors and technicians that I associate with, this increased attachment security has not only impeded e-mail functionality, but has also generated high volumes of help desk calls from frustrated users.

In any event, you have a few options for dealing with this situation. The simplest solution is to just request that the sender use a file compression utility that changes the file name extension (i.e. ascan.exe to ascan.zip). You touched on this yourself in your question when you stated that you could receive Zip files. This is also better for your mail-server because the file size will be smaller and easier to transmit.

If you don't want to impose on would-be senders, then your only other option would be to modify your system registry to allow restricted files to be delivered. It works like this: Outlook classifies attachments as either a Level 1 or Level 2. The client blocks Level 1 attachments. Level 2 attachments trigger a warning and prompt the user to decide whether or not to open the attachment. (For more information about these attachment levels.) You can modify the registry on your client systems to relax the security for Level 1 attachments by redefining them as Level 2 attachments. Doing this will require you to make changes to the system registry.

Since Microsoft provides no GUI-based option for modifying these settings you'll have to do it manually via the Registry Editor. The process involves adding and editing the Level1Remove string value in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\Security registry subkey. Detailed instructions for these modifications can be found in the Microsoft Knowledge Base article "Cannot Open Attachments in Microsoft Outlook" at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;829982.) These modifications can also be applied to Outlook 2002 and 2000. The article explains the specifics for each version.

If you're not comfortable using the Registry Editor there are is a free GUI-based add-on utility available for download that you could use that should make the process a bit easier and far less intimidating. You can download the utility here. WinGuides' Tweak Manager is a similar utility that also provides a wealth of operating system and desktop tweaks.

I highly recommend that you be as conservative as possible when modifying Outlook's attachment security because of the inherent risk associated with permitted files might contain viruses or other rogue programs. If you do choose to compromise Outlook's security measures, proceed at your own risk. It would also be wise to make sure that you are using an antivirus utility that automatically updates itself often. Also, remember to open only expected attachments from known sources — especially if you permit any scripting file types, which can often slip by antivirus utilities and can erase data without warning. Best of luck!

Use our feedback form to submit your questions on home or SOHO networking issues. Please be as specific as possible. We cannot guarantee to answer every question we get, but we’ll consider them all.



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