Can I Get a Virus From Just Looking at an Email?

When a computer is infected by a virus or other malicious software the user is often times unaware of how they became infected in the first place.  The conclusion that is drawn up in these cases is the frequently heard "it must have been that email I got earlier today".  Can you get a computer virus just by email?

Not if you don't run any attachments or click any links.  A decade or so ago it was possible for an email to have code imbeded in the body of the text that could run automatically when viewing the email itself. Modern computers and email programs will not allow such code to infect your computer without permission granted that you have all default security options enabled.  Even with the advanced security, it is is still a best practice to not open any email that doesn't pass a preliminary "sniff test".

The major threat that comes from emails with ill intent are the links and attachments.  The harmful attachments will, once opened, quickly install the virus onto your computer and your machine will be infected.  These attachments can come in the form of a .zip, .exe, or even a Word or Excel document.  Clicking on any links in a suspicious email can lead you to a web page that will attempt to install the virus as well.

How can you tell if an email is to be avoided?

1. Look at Sender/Subject:  When the email shows up in your inbox you should first look at who the sender is and read the subject line.  If it is from and the subject reads "BIG WIN CLICK FOR MONEY!" then you're better off just deleting it right then and there. 

2. Did you ask for it: An infected computer will often send emails with the virus to people on their contact list.  This means that it is entirely possible to receive an email from a co-worker with an excel attachment and pleading you to open it immediately or receive a message from your great-grandma with family-photos.exe linked in the body.  If you weren’t expecting an email with an attachment and there isn’t a reason why you would receive one now then it is okay to heed on the side of caution and get confirmation that the email is legit before opening. Your great-grandma will be proud of your due diligence.

3. Check for silly grammar/spelling mistakes:  If the email is written in broken English, all caps, or has a lot of simple spelling errors then send it to the deleted items folder. It is kind of amazing that hackers and virus programmers can’t get this right.

Please contact Sierra Ridge Networks today if you have any further questions in regards to email, viruses, or if you think your computer may be infected.

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