Five Ways to Spot Harmful Email Attachments

Email attachments are a way of life in this day and age. They make daily life much simpler, but they also make it a lot easier for people who want to steal information or generally cause problems. Even with antivirus programs and security in place, you need to personally watch for email attachments that might be harmful. Here are five ways to distinguish a harmless attachment from a potentially harmful attachment.

Verify the Attachment Extension Type

Know the formats of attachments you typically get in email. Three examples of formats typically seen in an office and home environment are attachments with .pdf, .docx, and .xlsx extensions. Watch out for extension types that are unfamiliar and/or volatile. For example, extensions that end with the letter ‘m’ is an extension that has a file that contains macros. Like .exe files, macros can run things in the background that you might not even notice.

Watch Out for Archives

Zipped files are dangerous because they need to be interacted with in order to see their contents. A curious user may very well have the file unzipped and acting before the user can even question what harm it could do. The answer is – quite a bit. Plenty of viruses and worms can be executed from archives, so pay close attention to such files and who is sending them.

Pay Attention to the Sender

Names you don’t recognize, names with random capitalization, or misspelled names tend to be a good sign that you’re not dealing with a legitimate sender. Most users at this point know not to trust the Nigerian prince by any name, but when it comes to email attachments, the truth really is in the name.

Look at the Email Itself

Sometimes, scammers do have convincing names and domains and you’ll find that only the message itself will help you determine whether or not the email is legitimate. Anyone mentioning winning something, money, or asking you to click on a link of any sort is typically a good sign that someone is doing their best to trick you.

Don’t Ignore Your Antivirus Program

Antivirus programs exist for a reason. When they mark an attachment as dangerous, they’re typically on to something. If there’s no warning from your antivirus program, but you’re still not certain, you can usually run a quick scan on the attachment itself. Even though they can be a bit touchy about things and might make a problem out of a .pdf, antivirus programs are invaluable when it comes to protection from harmful email attachments.

Ultimately, the best advice is to keep your eyes open and pay attention to what’s coming through your email. Be smart with attachments and always use your best judgment.