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How to avoid getting computer virus through e-mail

E-mail is one of the primary ways to exchange information among Internet users; it is also a common method for spreading viruses. Below are some tips for avoiding viruses or passing them on to others.

  • Beware of unexpected or unsolicited e-mail attachments

It is the attachment to the e-mail that contains the potential hazard. If the attachment came from an unknown sender either unexpected or unsolicited, the best decision would be to delete the e-mail without opening it. If the e-mail is from a known and trusted source, but did not expect an attached file from that source, you may want to contact the sender to confirm that the attachment is legitimate.

  • Avoid forwarding e-mail attachments unless you first scan the attachment for viruses

If you have an anti-virus program that scans all incoming e-mail attachments, or if you can scan the attachment after it arrives, then it is probably safe to forward the attachment. Otherwise, do not forward the attachment.

  • Look for an unexpected file extension on any attachment

If the subject line or the body of an e-mail states that the attachment is a certain type of file or the file icon implies a certain type of file and the file extension does not match, delete the file.    

If you trust the sender, contact that person to determine what you were supposed to have received.

  • Back up your date files on a regular basis

In a worst case scenario, a virus may corrupt or destroy data on one or more files. Regular backups will allow you to recover more easily in the event that a virus damages your files.

  • Data files will not carry viruses

A file that contains only data will not carry a virus since a virus has to have some kind of executable code. For example, files ending with the extension .txt, .csv, .gif, .jpg, .mp3, .wav are common data files that would not have executable code.

Files ending in .doc, .xls, .exe, and even .htm may have executable code and could potentially carry a virus.