Viruses take many routes to weasel themselves into your computer. Some ask you to click on a link to an infected website. Others come disguised as a cute program with an infected executable file. Don’t forget electronic greeting cards as a popular form of virus transmission. Additionally, a simple picture file can be laced with harmful malware. Of course, Zip files have been used for quite some time to ship viruses from user-to-user. But what do all these means of infection have in common? They are all received via email.
4 simple things to do to protect yourself from falling victim to email-related viruses are:
• If you are using a stand-alone email client, such as Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, ensure that your antivirus protection hooks into your mail client.
• Don’t assume because the name sending the email is really from that person or company
• Never click any links
• Don’t fall for a ‘catchy’ subject line
These days this isn’t as much of an issue as it was in days past due to the prevalence of web-based email such as Gmail, at least for home users, but if you happen to still be using email software such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, or another POP-based email client you must have the type of antivirus software that is email-enabled. This means that it scans every incoming email for malicious code. When it finds a potential virus or piece of spyware it quarantines it immediately, thus removing the potential threat to you.
How many times have you asked a friend, relative, or coworker why they emailed you something only to have them tell you they didn’t? This happens because whomever is sending the virus has simply copied a random name from someone’s address book, who is already infected, and used it in the From box of their emailing software. It can be very difficult to tell where exactly an email has come from; however, if you are curious and technically inclined you may look into the headers and find the sending IP address. Doing a whois search will reveal the location of the sender’s email server.
It should be common sense by now not to click links in emails but quite a few people still refuse to just say no to clicking. This is probably the single-most-important step to protecting your system from catching a virus. By clicking a link you will either visit an infected webpage or install a program with malware in its code. It is always best to enter the URL of the site you want to go to by manually entering it in your web browser. For example, if Bank of America sends you something with a link in it don’t click it, but rather, enter bankofamerica.com into your web browser. If you aren’t sure of the exact URL simply enter it into a search engine.
Finally, be aware that email spoofing/spamming software can determine, by using your mail server’s IP address, your general location of the country and use a local city name in creating a subject line. This is an attempt to entice you into opening the email. For example, a subject line may read, “Fire in Bronx High School” just to get you to click it open. Some emails are able to infect an unpatched system simply by opening them.
In the end, it all comes down to common sense and adequate protection when trying to prevent getting a virus via email. It pays to always wait an extra few seconds and analyze an email that may seem a little ‘out of place’. Additionally, always be sure to have antivirus protection and ensure it is up-to-date.