Handle E-mail Attachments With Care

Dennis Faas's picture

In my last column I talked about one very important thing you can do to help secure your e-mail. Though it could affect the appearance of some messages, turning off HTML in your e-mail program can go a long way toward protecting your computer.

Having said that, one of the most useful features of e-mail is the ability to send and receive attachments. An attachment is simply a file that is appended to the e-mail message itself. This can be a data file, like a word processing document or spreadsheet, or can even be a full-blown application such as a disk cleanup tool, an icon changer, etc.

Sending and receiving attachments is fun, convenient, and useful! But because some attachments are binary applications, they could also carry a virus, Spyware, or other security nasties.

In this article, I want to share with you two tricks you can implement when dealing with attachments that will help guard your computer.

Always Be Suspicious of Any E-mail Attachment

In the early days of the Internet, sound advice regarding email attachments was that you steer clear of any attachment that did not come from a trusted source.

Of course this still holds true today, but unfortunately this is only half of what you need to know. In fact, many of today's e-mail worms take advantage of address book functions whereby the worm is spread with a spoofed source address -- an address you may know and recognize. Therefore, the safest advice is to exercise caution when you receive any attachment and only open it if you are expecting to receive it.

Secondly, when you receive an attachment, there is usually the option to save it to disk or open it right from the mail message. Although it is convenient to open and execute an attached file straight from an e-mail message, a better approach would be to first save it to disk. The reasoning for this is simple: some antivirus programs may not scan incoming and outgoing e-mail attachments. By opting to go this route, your antivirus software should scan as it is saved. This is done without executing the file (which is dangerous).

Attachments represent a convenient way to enhance collaboration and communication with friends, family members, and colleagues. They allow us to quickly share letters, forms, business reports, or any other type of data we can think of. But because attachments are made up of files, there is always a risk that an attachment could have a virus. Therefore it's imperative we understand the risks associated with using attachments and how to best mitigate them. Ensuring your attachments are scanned for viruses will go a long way towards mitigating that risk.

For more great tips like this one, be sure to download David's free security newsletter to your mailbox, today!

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