How to Use E-Mail Safely

Your electronic mailbox can be a doorway for unscrupulous people that are trying to harm you or your computer. Here is what you need to know in order to keep yourself safe.

Viruses, Trojan Horses and Other Malicious Software

Malicious software (or malware) are computer programs that have the potential to damage your computer, steal your private information or allow others to control your computer from afar. It is very important to protect your computer from such threats - here's how.

  1. Anti-virus software is a critical line of defence against malware. If you don't have an anti-virus program on your computer, you should get one right now. We recommend Avast or AVG, both of which provide a free basic version for home use.
  2. E-mail attachments are a common way to infect your computer with malware. Use judgement when downloading attachments - never download attachments which were sent by people you don't know. Even if you recognize the sender, some attachment types should not be downloaded. Files ending with .EXE, .MSI or .COM are computer programs, which may contain malware even when the sender isn't aware of this.
  3. Windows Update is an automated update service for the Windows operating system. Using this service is essential for keeping your computer protected from newly-discovered security holes that can let malware in. Click here for more information about Windows Update.

Limited Privacy

E-mail messages may be exposed to prying eyes along the way to their destination, so do not assume that your e-mails are private. Never use e-mail to send sensitive information such as bank account details, credit card numbers or passwords.

E-Mail Scams

You may receive an e-mail message from someone you don't know, claiming that you've won some prize or are about to receive a large sum of money. All he needs are your personal details or bank account number in order to proceed... These are common scams - don't fall for them or you could lose a lot of money. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Here is what typical e-mail scams look like (click for full size):

Lottery scam   Money package scam   Real-estate investment scam

Phishing

Phishing is an attempt to convince you to disclose private information (bank account details, credit card number, password to a website you use, and so on). It typically comes as a formal-looking e-mail claiming that you need to "verify your account" or something along these lines. Usually there's an attempt to create a sense of urgency, for example by claiming that your account will be suspended if you fail to follow these instructions within 48 hours. The e-mail includes a link to a fake website that is used for collecting your personal details.

Banks and other reputable organizations never send out such e-mails, so be very suspicious of this kind of messages. Don't click the links, and don't disclose your personal details. If you're unsure, contact the organization that allegedly sent the e-mail and ask them about it.

Familiarize yourself with these phishing examples (click for full size):

Bank account phishing   Customer survey phishing   Facebook account phishing

Spam

Unsolicited commercial email, or junk mail, can become a real nuisance if your email address falls into the hands of a spammer. The most important thing you should do when dealing with spam is to ignore it. Do not trust the various commercial offerings that are sent to you without permission. In particular, ignore e-mails trying to convince you to purchase "cheap medications" online. Your health is too important - do not risk it by buying medications from questionable sources.

 

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