In 1775 Congress enacted the U.S. Postal Service, with Benjamin Franklin as its first Postmaster General. For many, many years, we used “snail mail” as a primary means to transmit information across the miles. With today’s technological advances and the need for instant gratification, communication via email has become the standard for businesses and civilians alike.
With this convenience comes a price, however. As a result, we must exercise some caution. Although email provides a quick way to send and receive important documents, failure to realize the down side may bring about disastrous consequences. Opening the wrong attachment may infect your computer with a virus, causing massive loss of information, time and money.
The US-CERT Alerts and Tips Blog identifies some very important guidelines that will assist in keeping unsafe activity to a minimum. For instance:
- “Be wary of unsolicited attachments, even from people you know – Just because an email message looks like it came from your mom, grandma, or boss doesn’t mean that it did. Many viruses can “spoof” the return address, making it look like the message came from someone else. If you can, check with the person who supposedly sent the message to make sure it’s legitimate before opening any attachments. This includes email messages that appear to be from your ISP or software vendor and claim to include patches or anti-virus software. ISPs and software vendors do not send patches or software in email.
- Keep software up to date – Install software patches so that attackers can’t take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. Many operating systems offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should enable it.
- Trust your instincts – If an email or email attachment seems suspicious, don’t open it, even if your anti-virus software indicates that the message is clean. Attackers are constantly releasing new viruses, and the anti-virus software might not have the signature. At the very least, contact the person who supposedly sent the message to make sure it’s legitimate before you open the attachment. However, especially in the case of forwards, even messages sent by a legitimate sender might contain a virus. If something about the email or the attachment makes you uncomfortable, there may be a good reason. Don’t let your curiosity put your computer at risk.”
For more information on how to using attachments wisely, see US-CERT’s Security Tip ST04-010, “Using Caution With Email Attachments”.