Virus-Free Email at Work


by Barbara J. Feldman on June 29, 2007

There have been epidemic viruses that have infected hundreds of thousands of computers at once. Introducing a virus into a business network is disastrous. Not only is it expensive but some viruses can actually erase hard-drives. Can you imagine if you were the one that opened the virus and erased every hard drive in your office or school? Your only hope would be that because all the computers were destroyed, nobody would find out that it was you. To avoid this position, it is probably best that you don’t open any viruses while you are at work. Here are some tips to keep you from doing just that.
The most effective way that you can avoid opening a virus is to never open any attachment while you are at work. This is similar to using abstinence for birth control. It is 100% effective but might not be practical. The next best thing to not opening any attachments is to not open attachments when you don’t know what they are. If you aren’t expecting something, don’t open it.
It is often stated that the way to avoid viruses is to not open attachments from people that you don’t know. This is not fool proof. Because of how viruses work, once you open an attachment, you have not just opened an attachment from that person but from every person that they opened an attachment from. You can see how this quickly snowballs.
Say you get cute email pictures from your Aunt Sally almost every day. This means Aunt Sally is also getting email messages that she forwards along to you. Say Aunt Sally’s best friend Bonnie opens an attachment that contains a virus. Bonnie’s new virus will automatically send itself to everyone in Bonnie’s address book. Aunt Sally will receive this email from Bonnie and open it. Now the virus is in Aunt Sally’s computer. Aunt Sally’s virus now mails itself to everybody in Aunt Sally’s computer, including you. You are at work when the “you’ve got mail” pop-up pops up and seeing that it’s an email from Aunt Sally you open it. Now you’ve done it, your virus now sends itself, from you, to every inbox in the office and you go live with Aunt Sally while you look for a new job.

Don’t let this happen to you. At the very least make sure there is a personal message along with the email that has the attachment. Aunt Sally’s virus might replicate itself and send itself to you but it won’t type out a note from Aunt Sally. This is a very effective way to avoid email viruses at work.
The other important point is to never ever open any attachment that is not in a familiar type of file. Learn about file extensions. For example, a word document will end with .doc, an excel file will end with .xls, and pictures usually end with .gif or jpg. Email viruses usually come in an executable file. These are files that run. Once they run, they can do anything they are programmed to do, including erase everything on your hard drive. Executable files often end with extensions like EXE, COM, or VBS. If you get an email that ends with one of these extensions you should reply to the sender and ask about the program. Do not open these without an explanation.
Finally, even familiar files from application like work and excel can have viruses. These viruses will be attached to a macro command. If you open a file and a popup window asks about enabling Macros say, “No”. Unless you know what is coming and have discussed it with the author there is no point in enabling a macro on your office computer.
Remember these tips. Never open an attachment that you aren’t expecting and that doesn’t have a personal message attached. Never open an attachment that contains an executable extension. And never enable a macro without a good reason.
Better safe than unemployed!


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