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  • Writer's pictureNorm McLaughlin

Solving Email Issues

Updated: Sep 10, 2023


email problems
Why don't I have any emails?

In recent months I’ve encountered a remarkable number of clients who’ve been having difficulty accessing their emails on their computers. For those experiencing this problem, there's been no issue with accessing emails using a web interface such as Telstra Mail for Bigpond or Outlook for Microsoft email accounts. Rather, the difficulties have arisen when using email client software such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird or Mac Mail. Since most people prefer to access their emails using an email client such as one of these, the failure of their preferred email program to retrieve emails presents a significant issue.


Emails Blocked by Antivirus Software


During one particular week recently, two of my customers were no longer receiving their Bigpond emails. The first of these customers was using Mozilla Thunderbird and had been doing so for many years. All of a sudden, her emails were no longer being received. I was initially stumped by the issue and tried re-adding the email account in Thunderbird. When the issue persisted I began to dig deeper. As it turned out, this particular client was using Avast antivirus software and I found that, by disabling the Mail Shield in the Avast software, the client’s emails began to appear in her inbox as normal.


The Avast Mail Shield checks incoming and outgoing email messages for viruses and links to malicious websites. The activity of the shield only applies to messages handled by mail management software installed on your computer, such as Mozilla Thunderbird or MS Outlook. For whatever reason, the Avast Mail Shield had been blocking all my client’s Bigpond emails, not just those suspected of malicious intent. The issue was resolved by disabling the Mail Shield, although of course this also meant that malicious emails would no longer be filtered out.


A few days after resolving the issue with this client I encountered another customer with an almost identical issue. This customer was also finding that her Bigpond emails were being blocked, although she was using Microsoft Outlook, not Mozilla Thunderbird as her mail management program. This time around I knew exactly what to look for. In this case the customer was using AVG antivirus software, not Avast. However this product contains the same Mail Shield as the Avast software and the resolution was exactly the same. Avast Antivirus and AVG Antivirus are two antivirus software brands from the same parent company, hence the almost identical user interface and options.


Bigpond Email Blocked by VPN's


A significant number of home internet users employ something called a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when using the internet. A VPN is a service that protects your internet connection and privacy online. It creates an encrypted tunnel for your data and protects your online identity by hiding your IP address It’s worth noting that Bigpond email is often blocked when using a VPN. If you're using a VPN and experiencing this issue, it's worth disabling the VPN, at least when accessing your emails, to see if this resolves your issue.


Other email issues I’ve encountered recently have resulted from increased security being applied by both Google and Microsoft to their email products.


Two-Factor Authentication


Two-factor authentication (2FA) or two-step verification (2SV) provides an extra layer of protection used to ensure the security of online accounts beyond just a username and password. It typically requires verification of a user’s identity using a text message on their phone, or the use of an authenticator app, in addition to entry of a password. When an email account is protected using 2FA, it means that even if someone knows your email password, they still can’t access your email as a second form of verification is required.


Last year Google began auto-enrolling millions of users in 2SV. For those users auto-enrolled this meant that certain email clients such as older versions of Microsoft Outlook would no longer be able to authenticate a user’s identity in order to continue receiving emails. For Gmail users affected by this, it meant that emails suddenly stopped being received when the change was implemented by Google on their accounts. The simplest solution for customers using older email client software was to use what’s known as an app password, rather than their normal Gmail password in their email software.


Using an App Password With Gmail


As implemented by Google, an app password is a 16-digit passcode that gives a less secure app or device permission to access your Google Account. App passwords can only be used with accounts that have two-step verification turned on, and are only required if the email client you’re using doesn’t offer Sign in with Google. This would apply to older versions of Microsoft Outlook, and to certain other email clients. Typically newer email clients support the use of Sign in with Google and don’t require the use of an app password with your Gmail email account.


The clients I’ve encountered having difficulties have typically been using an older version of Microsoft Outlook, such as Microsoft Office 2013, or even Microsoft Office 2010. For clients using a Gmail address, whether a personal one or a custom email address on Google Workspace, the issue was readily resolved by generating an app password as just described. This app password was then entered when prompted in the password field in Microsoft Outlook, following which emails could be successfully sent and received once again.


For clients using a Microsoft email address, whether a personal Microsoft account or a custom email address using a Microsoft 365 Business plan, it’s a slightly different story.


Microsoft Using Modern Authentication


Since 1 October 2022, Microsoft has begun to permanently disable something called ‘Basic Auth’. Basic authentication simply means that the email application sends a username and password with every request, and those credentials are also often stored or saved on the device. This is an outdated industry standard and has now been superseded by modern authentication.


Modern authentication is an umbrella term for a combination of authentication and authorisation methods between a client (for example, your computer) and a server, as well as some security measures that rely on varuious access policies. As a result, anyone using an email application which utilises basic authentication but doesn’t support modern authentication, will no longer be able to access their Microsoft email.


For anyone using Microsoft Outlook 2013, modern authentication is not enabled by default, but can be enabled by making a number of changes in the Windows Registry. The technical understanding required to implement these changes is likely to be outside the comfort zone of most users. You could of course employ someone like myself to do it for you. Alternatively, you could purchase a Microsoft 365 subscription, or install an email client application which does support modern authentication.


Alternative Email Management Software


My personal favourite email management program is called em Client. This software supports all sorts of protocols and can import your email and settings from whatever email software program you are currently using. The product is completely free for use with one or two email addresses, and requires a one-time payment only if using three or more email addresses.


Conclusion


Much of what I've described may seem rather complicated and certainly the technology used to handle your emails is indeed complex. The good news however, is that you don't need to understand all the ins and outs of everything. If you're having difficulties with your emails, there's always a solution and the implementation of that solution is normally straightforward.


It's also possible that you're having an email issue which doesn't fall into one of the categories I've described. Whatever the issue you're having, I'm available to assist and I cover a wide range of suburbs in Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan and the Redlands. Please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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