Protection against worms goes beyond the email. But it is still an important aspect of system security. A combination of two measures is needed: a firewall with only the essential ports open, and system software that is updated with the latest patches. Considering the number of computers now being connected directly to the Internet, personal firewalls are going to become important. The recent MSBlast worm infected these computers (most enterprise computers were unaffected due to the firewall). Users will also need to be more alert to advisories that are issued for system patches. Ideally, this process should be automated just like anti-virus software which automatically checks for updates with a central server.
Again here, users must consider the option of Linux as a possible alternative. Most virus and worm writers focus their efforts on the Microsoft platform because of its near ubiquity. Linux, by contrast, can benefit from the attention of the open-source community.
Email publishers have had a tough time as their emails have either been getting rejected or lost in the flood. The solution is very clear and obvious: RSS. Email publishers have to move to a publish-subscribe model. Of course, the issue they will face is that only a limited number of their current users may have RSS readers. This is a solvable problem, given the readers and aggregators that are available, and the ease with which they can be set-up.
The email client, our Office suite, the web browser (and now, the cellphone and SMS) have for many of us become the way we do our work, more than the phone, fax and letters. The challenge before us is to understand and use technology intelligently. There may not be perfect solutions, but they are more than good enough.
So, while the problems may be complex, there are some simple solutions which can be implemented at the enterprise and individual level to ensure that email stays effective. I personally do not believe that the alternative is not to use email. While there are many ideas which can be toyed with (for example, the use of private RSS feeds), none has the simplicity and ease of email as it exists today. The solutions are there and some may be harder to implement than others.
If email has to rise from the hammering (and obituaries) that it is receiving, a participative and emergent response is needed from the user community. The alternative is to isolate ourselves from the network, and that is a non-starter. There are new promising developments like the combinational use of RSS and IMAP around which innovative communication and information distribution solutions can be crafted. But these are going to make time to make their way into the user community.
Email may be dying, but it can be re-incarnated by our individual and collective actions. If anything, we have to brace ourselves for even greater email in the times to come.
TECH TALK The Death and Rebirth of Email+T