How to Lower the Risks of Opening E-mail Attachments

Updated March 23, 2017

Although e-mail can make life pretty convenient, it also can put your computer at risk. There are countless computer viruses being passed around the Internet at any given time, and most of these viruses are sent through e-mail attachments. With a little bit of research and a lot of caution, you can lower the risks of opening e-mail attachments.

Increase your awareness of the dangers of e-mail. In particular, it may be beneficial for you to learn some common file types that people use to send programs that will harm your computer. Although there are a multitude of different kinds of file extensions used for this purpose, common ones include .exe, .zip or .shs. Also, beware of common tricks, including the use of double file extensions (for example, FILENAME.gif.exe), or using the space bar to insert multiple characters so you cannot view the extension on your screen.

Install a virus protection program on your computer. Specifically, try to find a good antivirus program that automatically scans incoming and outgoing e-mail messages. Norton Antivirus is a good choice, but there are others as well. However, no matter which antivirus software you decide to use, be sure to install updates as often as possible to keep it working properly.

Use caution when opening any e-mail attachment, even if it is from someone you know. Ideally, you should check the file type, run a virus scan on the attachment, and verify that you know the sender before opening any type of e-mail attachment. However, if you ever doubt the legitimacy of an e-mail attachment, even after doing those three actions, try to call or e-mail the person in question to verify the contents of the attachment before opening. When in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of caution and delete the attachment if you cannot prove it is safe.


Most e-mail clients have a way of making the file extensions of all attachments visible. If your e-mail client does not do this automatically, you can check your settings menu or view the help screen to manually enable this feature yourself.


Even seemingly harmless file types like Microsoft Word or Excel documents (.doc and .xls, respectively) can contain a virus, so it is always better to play it safe when opening these types of files as well.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Wolfenden has been a professional freelance writer since 2005 with articles published on a variety of blogs and websites. She specializes in the areas of nutrition, health, psychology, mental health and education. Wolfenden holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in counseling from Oakland University.