Email is becoming a very regular facet of our society very quickly. It is commonplace among business and residential locations alike. However, while email can provide many conveniences, it can also be a hassle. Are you one of those people that relies heavily on email but is tired of turning on your computer just to be notified that you have 2356 emails that you have to deal with knowing full well that 95% of them are junk or potentially harmful?? If you are, it may interest you to know that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way!
Here is a quick Q & A to answer some questions you might have about email..
Q: Do I have to worry about viruses when opening email?
A: Simply put, yes, yes you do have to worry about viruses. Fortunately for you common sense is the best defence against these viruses, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t have a monthly subscription fee, and it doesn’t blast you with pop ups when it’s time to renew. All you have to do is believe in yourself and be willing to put some extra time and research into your actions. For instance, if you get some ad-mail that seems kind of interesting containing an attachment that you really want to open but aren’t sure of, search the “company” name or email subject line on your favorite search engine and see what comes up. If it is a scam or a virus chances are you aren’t the first person to be hit and something will come up. If it is a legitimate company with a real product they probably have a website and maybe even a phone number you can call about their products and services. Especially beware of emails that give you links that go straight to downloads. Also be careful of emails that contain very large or very small attachments. If the attachment is to small to be an actual file (the smallest files are usually a few kilobytes), it may just be a virus (viruses can be incredibly small in terms of data). If the file size is very large you could be getting a Trojan (a type of virus that disguises itself as a working program and does bad things while you aren’t looking!)
Many anti-virus programs come equipped with email scanners which can help, but they certainly aren’t fool proof. Relying solely on AV programs when it comes to the Internet or email is a quick way to end up with viruses, your personal Internet habits are always the best line of defence.
Q: What is a worm and how can it adversely affect my computer?
A: A worm is essentially a self-replicating virus that requires absolutely zero user intervention in order to spread. The reason i am addressing worms separately from the previous section about viruses is that they are very particular to using email address books to travel to different systems. If you have ever received an email from someone you knew and trusted that seemed very uncharacteristic of that person, it was probably a worm. Let’s say you know a Bob who hates ballet dancing, and one day you receive an email from said bob asking you to join a ballet dancing class with him. That email is probably a worm. If you really think Bob has turned over a new leaf you should still delete that email without opening it and give him a call to see if he actually sent it to you.
As far as the damage that can be done by a worm, it can vary. Most worms are just happy tunneling their way through the vast network that is the Internet never doing more than slowing your connection speed down by causing excess traffic as they replicate and spread to your contact list. Some worms however have been documented to carry what are known as payloads. This cargo can take the form of more directly harmful viruses meant to corrupt system files on each and every computer that they are dropped off on. Either way your best defense is still to avoid opening emails you are unsure of and to be proactive about seeking out information regarding whether or not something is or is not safe to open.
Remember, when you stop a worm from entering your computer, you potentially stop it from entering the computers of friends and family as well.
Q: I am sick of getting so much spam, how do all of these people get my email address anyways???!
A: All of these people were given your email by……..YOU!!…….indirectly of course but never the less. The important thing to remember here is that you need to be careful in regards to where you register your email address online. Many of those “freeware” programs that we all enjoy so much require registration of some sort to download. The people that make these “freeware” programs can then take your email and sell it to other companies that want to advertise things to you. So a lot of the time these “freeware” programs aren’t actually free! You are paying for them with your email address!
So I bet you’re wondering what you can do about this right? Well simply put there isn’t much you can do about it besides being a little bit more conscientious of where you register your email address. Reading the terms and conditions of certain programs and websites may help you understand what the company is legally entitled to do with your email address after you register it with them (assuming of course that you have time to read those). Sometimes if you’re lucky the website or program will have fine print somewhere on one of the main screens telling you what they can do with your information which saves you the hassle of reading the terms and conditions, so look for that. If you are even luckier the people might even give you an option to opt out of having your information shared with their registered partners so keep an eye out for that as well.
To conclude what i have said about email, the Internet is like one giant game of give and take, it has so much to offer but you can lose a lot if you aren’t careful. If you just take everything it throws at you without putting in any work, chances are you’ll end up with piles of viruses in all of your “free stuff”. If you take everything the Internet throws at you with a grain of salt and use it as a starting point to seek out information on your own terms you’ll be much safer.
Shaun Lawrie is a PC enthusiast currently working for REP4 Technologies. He is striving to increase his knowledge and certification level in various IT fields and is especially interested in network security and remote management.