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Out of the Office Messages to the Internet

When setting up the Exchange server, you need to consider whether to allow Out of the Office Messages (OOTO) to the internet or not.
These are not sent to the internet by default on Exchange, you have to actually go in to the system and set the option.
However should you enable the option?
Some people consider them to be important, others a hindrance.
If you are a member of any email distribution list, then you will almost always get at least one out of the office response if you post to the list.
The decision on enabling OOTO messages to the Internet is probably not something for the Exchange administrator to decide. As they can play a part in the internal business processes, it should be considered by the management of the business to ensure that they fit in with those processes.
Remember that internal OOTO messages are not affected and will always be sent.

What are the issues with OOTO?

There are a number of key issues that need to be considered when the OOTO status is being reviewed.
There are four major issues with OOTO messages.

  1. Security.
    The OOTO message could contain information that the person receiving it shouldn't have. Mobile phone numbers, names and numbers of other contacts in the company etc.
    The message could also indicate that the person is out of the country, whether on holiday or on a business trip. It is clearly identifying that the home is empty. If the staff member is a director, then their home details could be easily discovered, and the home broken in to shortly afterwards.
  2. Technical issues.
    Not so much an issue with OOTO on Exchange, but other systems will use automatic replies instead of an OOTO system. These can cause email loops. The message bounces back to someone with an automatic reply and then bounces back in, and back out and so on. Eventually one server will crash. 
  3. Guaranteed Response
    Any spam gets a response. That confirms the address is live and means more spam.
  4. Can leave a bad impression on the recipients.
    If any staff are members of distribution lists then these lists may get the OOTO messages. These are just annoying for list members.
    Some people consider OOTO to be poor business behaviour as the are effectively saying that no one else is monitoring your email. You should get someone to monitor your email while you are away from the office, in case something important does occur

What can you do about OOTO?

While it is considered good practise to have OOTO and other automatic replies and forwards disabled to the Internet, this is not always practical to fit in with the business practises.

  • Review whether you need to have OOTO going out to the internet. If better practises can be adopted, such as team members monitoring the email, then those should be used instead. 
  • Standardise on the message that is used in an OOTO. Make sure that it states that you are unable to read email and who to contact instead. Give a general phone number - switchboard etc as the contact instead of a direct number or mobile.
  • As an Exchange server administrator, make sure that you have made the registry change to suppress OOTO messages.
  • If you have specific external clients who you would like to receive OOTO messages, then you can enable them on a per domain basis.
    Open ESM and choose Global Settings, Internet Message Formats. Right click in the right pane and choose New, Domain. Then enter the information as required. The SMTP domain is the name after the @ sign.

Whichever decision is made, ensure that the staff know which method is being used. If the OOTO is being kept for internal use only, then the messages used can be tailored for that audience.

Future - Exchange 2007

The OOTO behaviour in Exchange 2007 is much improved, with more control over the message, including different messages depending on whether people are in your contact list. The OOTO can be programmed ahead of time to be turned off when you are due to return, instead of having to remember to disable it.

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