Avoid Email Viruses Like a Guru

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Though viruses sent through email are still a reality, gone are the days when your computer would have become infected by simply opening one. The attachments are what you need to watch out for.

Microsoft Outlook has suffered some security issues in the past, which proved damaging to a lot of users. Consequently, the myth has persisted that a virus can be released upon opening an email. This is simply untrue.

Why they’re OK to open

Is it safe to open email

Essentially, an email is nothing more than an HTML or text document. In the same way that opening a web page or text file in your own browser is safe, opening them in an email also doesn’t expose you. No matter what host you use, be it Yahoo, Thunderbird, Gmail, Hotmail or Outlook, opening a seemingly suspicious email should be OK, whether you go through a desktop or a web-based system.

Although it’s important to remember that some emails might try to unleash their virus after you’ve opened their message. They’ll be hidden in attachments or links within the email – opening either one could result in malware making its way into your system. As a rule, don’t open any suspicious-looking attachments. Even in the case of mail sent from a known source – beware of .exe files, which are likely compromised and are best left unopened.

Why it wasn’t always OK

Microsoft Outlook used to have a significant security issue. Before, emails were nothing but plain text. However, they were able to enclose HTML code, which is what web pages are written with. A weak spot in Outlook allowed those emails to automatically run JavaScript codes upon opening, which infected users’ computers. This is why, in the past, it was dangerous to simply open an email.

Thankfully, the vulnerability has long since been fixed, and emails are no longer able to run JavaScript. Typically, modern hosts won’t even allow images to be displayed automatically, the user must click to allow them. Provided your software (browsers, email clients, operating systems) is kept up-to-date, you’ll be able to open any email safely.

Tips to remember

Email security tips

Links and attachments in emails still pose a risk to your computer. Remember these tips to safeguard your system:

Keep everything updated

Your mail client, operating system, and web browsers must be updated regularly. Bad guys are constantly looking for weak spots in security to exploit, so regular updates help ensure that your system is patching any holes before that exploitation can happen. Running outdated software and programming puts you at risk for potentially unauthorized links and attachments to invade your system.

Utilize antivirus software

If you’re running on a Windows platform, antivirus software is an imperative piece of protection. It helps safeguard your system against mistakes and bugs attempting to sneak malware in without your knowledge.

Avoid running risky attachments

Typically, it’s safe to open any PDF files, especially when you’re keeping your PDF software updated. Files containing an .exe, however, are what you need to be wary of. Even files from a trusted source may be corrupted, so avoid opening the attachment if possible.

Avoid email attachments

Look out for links

For the most part, clicking on links in an email can be considered safe, just like opening a website from your browser. But pay attention to the link itself: if it seems unfamiliar or mentions any potential scam-related products, don’t click on it. If you decide to click on the link, avoid downloading or running any files that could be dangerous. Another thing to watch out for is email phishing. For example, if you open a link that seems like it’s from your bank, be wary of the website you are directed to. Though it will probably look similar to the real site, it’s likely a fake.

It’s true that there are numerous problems you might encounter going through your inbox. Sketchy attachments, scams aimed at money grabbing, phishing for personal information, and links directing you to dangerous sites are all very real threats. But remember, simply opening the email won’t cause you or your computer any harm.

We hope this article helped you to make one more step to becoming a security guru. Have you anything to add to this discussion? Share your wisdom with us in the comments below and don’t forget to check out more articles on the topic, like our guide on how to avoid bloatware or install Windows software with Ninite!

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