Precautions to take when opening email attachments

Written by suzanne s. wiley
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Precautions to take when opening email attachments
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E-mail has made sending documents, photos and videos incredibly simple. File attachments mean a recipient can see something within a few minutes, instead of a few days. Along with this convenience, though, comes the risk of viruses. These rely on attachments to proliferate, which means you must be cautious when you receive one.

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Unfamiliar e-mails

Dump attachments--without opening them--sent by people you don't know. If you don't know them, there's no reason the attachment would contain anything of use to you. Be very careful and ensure you recognise the name because malicious senders can create e-mail addresses that are quite close to those of legitimate businesses.

Unexpected Attachments

If you do recognise the name but weren't expecting anything from them, find out if that person really intended to send the attachment. It's possible to both spoof e-mail addresses and have a virus that sends itself out once it finds your contact list. This means that even though you recognise the name of the sender, you should not open the attachment unless you have verified that the sender really did send it. Columbia University says if the subject line seems vague, or if it mentions your name, the e-mail is untrustworthy.

Opened e-mail

If you've opened the email, inspect the full name of the attachment. Do not open attachments that have what looks like two extensions; extensions that indicate programs, like .exe; and unfamiliar extensions. The University of California Hastings College of Law says some viruses have a familiar extension followed by an unfamiliar extension, but the filename is so long that it appears truncated, hiding the unfamiliar extension.

Attachment Specifics

Set your e-mail preferences so that attachments don't download or open automatically. This includes turning off preview panes and unchecking any sort of autorun feature. Winthrop University recommends clicking "No" if you see a message about enabling macros.

System Precautions

Always keep virus definitions for your antivirus software current. Run spyware scans as needed and take note of system performance issues. That can be a sign that something may have slipped past your defences.

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