Internet Security and Privacy - E-Mail


E-Mail Attachments

An e-mail attachment is a normal file, let's say an image, a photo, some music,... or whatever type of file it might be, which is send as an extra separate part of an e-mail. When you receive the e-mail, you can read the normal text in the mail, but still you don't see the contents of that "extra" file immediately. You have to click on it's filename to open it and see the picture, hear the music and so on. And you can save the attachment separately from the e-mail to your hard disk. Because the file-type of the attachment can be anything, it can also be an executable, and thus possibly dangerous file, in other words a "virus".

Many (read: nearly "all"...) "virii" are spread within e-mails as an attachment. If you receive an e-mail with an attachment, be careful, don't open the attachment before you know if it possibly can be a virus. And don't trust anybody... don't open it because the mail was send by your best friend... for maybe he or she was sending you a virus without even knowing it! That's possible, so think of it.

Now, to determine if a file (in this case the attached file or "e-mail attachment") is potentially dangerous or not, you can use the "potentially dangerous file-extension list".
If you received any suspicious attachment, remember that normally there's no serious reason for anyone to send you such a file, unless you yourself asked for it. What would be the reason to send you a program, you didn't ask for... certainly you don't need it. So don't be curious, just delete the whole e-mail.

Repeat... there is not a single reason why it would be necessary to send you a potentially dangerous file without you first asking for it.
So, just delete it, remember...

Some other E-Mail things to know

Unfortunately, it became also possible to install unwanted code via e-mail without using attachments. But the chance your system will be infected this way is -at this moment- relatively low. You can disregard it, or you can protect yourself a bit more. Let's see how...

First of all look into the options of your e-mail program to turn off the standard read-window for your incoming post folder. In Ms Outlook this can be done via the menu "view". Now any mail you receive will not be visible at once anymore, thus preventing eventual malicious code to work out immediately.

Now you can manually select the mails you trust and open them. Or, if you wish, you can create some new folders and move the trusted mails into them. Of course those new folders can have their separate read-windows turned on, making reading more easy. Furthermore, you can also look for options in your e-mail program to sort, move and even delete your incoming mails automatically.

Last E-Mail thing... About "spam"

The word "spam" is used for unsolicited e-mail, mail you don't want to receive, and -of course- you didn't ask for. The origin of the word "spam" is somewhat obscure. Most likely it's an acronym for "Simultaneously Posted Advertising Message", or "Simultaneously Posted At Many"; but some say the word was derived from a Monty Python scene where a chorus of Vikings drowned out all other sounds by singing "spam, spam, spam", resembling at those tons of unwanted mail "drowning out" the real mail; while still others believe it came from some sort of canned food called "spam", no matter that...

But those millions of "spam"-mails became a huge problem on the internet. In fact, every day the number of "spam"-mails far exceeds the number of "real" mails. Despite several governmental and legal actions in many countries of the world, the problem still consist and in some cases, not all, there's little we can do about it.

But nevertheless, there are things to do...

First of all: don't give your e-mail address away to anybody and everywhere. Give it to your friends, of course, and to everybody who has to know it. But don't give it to every site on the web asking for an e-mail address. Too many times your address will be added to one or more address-lists and spammers will use those lists to send you lots of unwanted mails.

Consider to use more than one e-mail address. You could have one address for personal use, only for your friends, your work, etc., and another address to give freely away. Then if you receive to much "spam"-mail on the second address, you can simple delete it. Nearly always you can have more than one e-mail address or alias at your local provider without extra cost. And you can also have e-mail addresses for free at many websites.

If you receive a "spam"-mail, don't ever reply! Sometimes at the end of the mail you can click to "unsubscribe" yourself from the mailing-list, or you can send a reply to the "spam"-mail with the word "unsubscribe" in it, or do something else... Well, just DON'T DO IT! Do not reply, and DO NOT click on any links in the mail, for by doing so, you let the spammer know that your address is correct, and many times that's the most effective way to receive still more spam.

Also do not reply just to say what you're thinking 'bout them... of course, it's quite understandable to do so and you're dam's right too... but your mail won't be delivered for nearly all spammer's addresses are faked. So just delete the mail, don't reply, don't click on anything in the mail, don't let them "win", and that's it.

But only for those who really hate spam (hope there are lots of them ;-) and who will also spend a bit more (learning) time on the subject, well you could take some action. But don't expect too much from it. In short, you could go to the options in your e-mail program, and search for the so-called "header" of the mail. There you find a sort of "route-tracing" which can be used to trace the spammer. You could send these data to your local provider, together with a complaint about spam.




Related topics : Basic security and privacy - Web security and privacy - The "potentially dangerous file" list


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