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Email Security Tips

May 8th, 2009 by Tanbir Leave a reply »

The major component used for fraud, the spreading of malicious data and scams, is email. The following tips below will help safe guard you from being the next victim.

Opening Suspicious Email Attachments.

Many viruses are sent in email attachments. You shouldn’t open any attachments that can be executed by the computer (known as executables), i.e. pif, exe, com, vbs, scr, inf. Treat all attachments as enemies, until proven otherwise. There are other suspicious extensions, and in particular some viruses hide themselves in a sort of double extension, like “.jpg.exe”.  Some antivirus apps can detect these “double” extension attachments if they are configured to do so.

If you insist on opening an attachment, store it first to a folder named something like “Email attachments to scan”, and then scan it with your antivirus software BEFORE opening it.

Even if the attachment is from a friend, scan it FIRST. And definitely DON’T open an attachment from someone you don’t know – delete the entire email.

Having Emails Automatically Open.

In Outlook Express (OE), this is known as the “Preview Pane”. DISABLE it by going to “View>Layout” and un-checking “Show preview pane”. The word “preview” is misleading, because it makes you think that it’s only a snippet, like a preview of a film. BUT IT’S NOT!!! This “Preview Pane” will actually open the entire email, and thus download any viruses that may come with it. And the OE preview pane is enabled by default, and also is the setting in “Tools>Options>Read” to automatically download all emails viewed in the preview pane.

This is particularly dangerous when you get an email from a stranger and want to delete it first. If it’s opened in the preview pane, it’s already too late to delete it – the damage has been done.

In the Thunderbird email client, the safest way to view your email is to turn off the Message Pane (that’s the same as what OE calls the “Preview Pane”) so only those messages you deliberately open are displayed. If Thunderbird is set up with the preview pane turned on (which it is by default), the selected message is already visible in the preview pane before the message is “opened”. To make Thunderbird more secure, turn off the preview pane by doing the following: Select View, then Layout, and then Message Pane from the toolbar menu. Deselect “Message Pane”. You can also do this with the F8 key.

I’m not familiar with other email programs, like Eudora, but they probably have something similar to a preview pane. DISABLE IT!!!

Opening Emails from People You Don’t Know.

You’ll have to suppress the temptation to know what this is about – especially if the title of the email peaks your curiosity (referred to as “Social Engineering” – geek lingo for something similar to shooting yourself in the foot by being so curious that you open up that “I Love You” email full of Malware). If you don’t know the person, DON’T open it – delete it. If it’s from someone you know or its something important, they’ll likely call you on the phone anyway if they don’t hear back from you via email.

People you don’t know can get your email address from a number of places, not the least of which is those “Forwarded” joke emails you get from your “Auntie” that contain all the addresses of everybody on the forward list. And that’s another topic which I’ll write about soon.

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