Outlook hangs caused by recent PayPal messages

A recent change in the PayPal notification messages can cause Outlook to hang for a couple of minutes. The issue is caused by an invalid picture reference in the message and the way Outlook deals with time-outs.

The PayPal message contains an invalid picture reference which can cause Outlook to hang.
Note that the location is pointing to a network share.

Background information

At the bottom of the message, there is a hidden tracking image. Instead of this image pointing to a web server, it is pointing to a non-existing network share. As it is pointing to a network share and not to a web server, Outlook’s “Internet picture blocking” functionality doesn’t kick in and tries to retrieve the content.

Obviously this fails, but Outlook is quite persistent in still trying to reach this network share and it takes up to a minute for it to time-out and stop trying. As this is being done in a foreground thread, it means you cannot use Outlook during this time and will display a “Not Responding” message in the title bar when you try it anyway.

This is a multilayered bug in Outlook itself which is currently being looked into;
Outlook shouldn’t do this in a foreground thread and since it is content from an external domain, it shouldn’t automatically try to download the content when you have the external content blocking enabled (on by default).

After almost 3 years, a permanent fix has finally been released in Hotfix KB2881058 for Outlook 2010 and Hotfix KB2883076 for Outlook 2013 which will prevent Outlook from showing download prompts and hanging when the link for a linked image doesn’t work (for any image, not just for PayPal messages).

These Hotfixes are also included in later released Rollup Updates available via Windows Update.

The workaround listed below is no longer needed for these versions of Outlook.

Fixing the broken messages

PayPal is aware of this issue and the template should be corrected soon (if it hasn’t been already). As long as it hasn’t been fixed, you can disable the Reading Pane to prevent accidental selection of the message and cause another time-out of a minute.

As the issue is within the message itself, the issue won’t go away for PayPal messages which you have already received. Throwing away the broken messages would be one solution but if you need to keep the message, you can do the following;

  1. Disconnect yourself from the network by either unplugging your network cable, disconnecting yourself from the wireless network or by disabling your network adapter.
  2. Open the message in its own window via a double click; this should go quickly now.
  3. Place the message in Edit Mode;
    • Outlook 2003
      Edit-> Edit Message
    • Outlook 2007
      tab Message-> group Action-> Other Actions-> Edit message
    • Outlook 2010
      tab Message-> group Move-> Actions-> Edit Message
  4. If you get a prompt that Outlook will need to download external content, accept it. As you are disconnected, it won’t actually attempt to download anything.
  5. At the bottom of the message, you’ll see an e-mail reference number from PayPal. Note the space behind the last number.
    Place your cursor after this space and press Backspace twice.
    Or place your cursor directly after the last number of the reference number and press Delete twice.
    • The first time you press it, you’ll select the image which will show as a dot (see screenshot below).
    • The second time you press it will actually remove the image.
  6. Save and close the image.
  7. Reconnect to the network.

Remove the space behind the reference number to select the image, which will show as a dot. Pressing Backspace again will remove the broken image.
Remove the space behind the reference number to select the image, which
will show as a dot. Pressing Backspace again will remove the broken image.

Fixing a lot of broken messages at once

If you have a lot of broken PayPal message which you all need to keep, then you can also modify your HOSTS file to fix the issue.

  1. Start Notepad as an administrator.
    You can do this by right clicking on the Notepad shortcut in the Start Menu and choosing “Run as administrator”. If you don’t see this option, hold SHIFT while right clicking on it.
  2. Choose File-> Open… and open the following file;
  3. Add the following line at the bottom.        102.112.2o7.net
  4. Save the file and close Notepad.

Now all the bad requests for the tracking image will be directly rerouted back to your computer which rejects it and causing a time-out which is hardly noticeable.

Edited HOSTS file to redirect the broken PayPal image. (click on image to enlarge)
Edited HOSTS file to redirect the broken PayPal image.
(click on image to enlarge)

Corporate solution for all computer clients at once

If you are in a corporate network, your system administrators can fix this for everyone at once by adding a Forward Lookup Zone (Primary Zone) for the 102.112.2o7.net domain. Then add an A host record without a name and have it resolve to

Clients who still have an issue can run ipconfig /flushdns from an elevated command prompt or reboot the computer to flush the DNS cache as well.