Using Caution with Email Attachments
While email attachments are a popular and convenient way to send documents, they can also be a virus source. Even if an attachment appears to have been sent by someone you know, proceed with caution when opening it.
Why can email attachments be dangerous?
Some of the same characteristics that make email attachments useful and popular also make them a common tool for attackers:
- Email is easily spread – Because forwarding email is so simple, viruses can quickly infect a large number of computers. Most viruses don’t even require users to forward the email; instead, they scan the user’s computer for email addresses and send the infected message to every address they find. Attackers take advantage of the fact that most people trust and open messages from people they know.
- Email programmes attempt to meet the needs of all users – Because almost any type of file can be attached to an email message, attackers have more leeway in terms of the viruses they can send.
- Many “user-friendly” functions are available in email applications. For example, some email applications allow you to automatically download email attachments, exposing your computer to any viruses included within the attachments.
What steps can you take to protect yourself and others in your address book?
Even from people you know, be wary of unsolicited attachments – It doesn’t mean that an email message looks like it came from your mother, grandmother, or boss. Many viruses have the ability to “spoof” the return address, making it appear as if the message was sent by someone else. Before opening any attachments, check with the person who supposedly sent the message to make sure it’s legitimate. Email messages that look to be from your ISP or software vendor and claim to contain patches or anti-virus software fall into this category. Patches and software are not sent by email by ISPs or software suppliers.
Keep software up to date – Apply software patches to prevent attackers from exploiting known flaws or vulnerabilities. Automatic updates are available on many operating systems. You should enable this option if it is accessible.
Trust your instincts: If an email or email attachment appears to be suspicious, don’t open it, even if your anti-virus software says it’s safe. New infections are continuously being released by attackers, and anti-virus software may not have the signature. Before you open the attachment, at the very least, verify that the communication came from the person who claimed to have sent it. Even messages sent by a reputable sender, especially in the case of forwarding, may contain a virus. There could be a valid reason if something about the email or attachment makes you uncomfortable. Don’t allow your inquisitiveness to endanger your PC.
Before opening any attachments, save and scan them. If you need to open an attachment to verify the source, follow these steps:
- Make sure your anti-virus software’s signatures are up to date.
- Save the file to your hard drive or computer.
- Use your anti-virus programme to manually scan the file.
- Go ahead and open the file if it appears to be clean and not suspicious.
Turn off the option to automatically download attachments – Many email programmes have the option to automatically download attachments to make reading messages easier. Check your software’s settings to see whether it has this option, and if it does, make sure to turn it off.
Create multiple users accounts with varying privileges on your computer – Most operating systems allow you to create several user accounts with various privileges. Consider reading your email using a password-protected account. To infect a computer, certain viruses require “administrator” rights.
Use additional security measures – Your email software or a firewall may be able to filter certain sorts of attachments.