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Safe Email Practices

We are constantly exposed to a barrage of viruses, trojan horses, worms and other malicious code. The majority of this code arrives via electronic mail, as attachments. The authors of these programs rely on you to infect your own computer. The following rules for safe email practices will help you to thwart these attacks.

Consider that any email message you receive or send, which includes an attachment, might cause problems.

Receiving Email with an Attachment (regardless of who sent you the email)

DON'T TOUCH THE ATTACHMENT! Don't open it, don't view it, don't preview it, don't save it to disk.

  • Contact the person who sent it to you and verify s/he actually meant to send it to you.
  • Ask what it is, specifically.
  • If you are at all unsure about it, contact the person you turn to if your computer is acting up. If you're at work, contact the Educational Equity Information Technology (EEIT) office. If you are at home, contact your ISP (Internet dial-up provider) or ASET. Do NOT send them a copy of the attachment. Describe it to them, then wait until they ask you for it.

 

Sending Email with an Attachment (remember, you could be sending someone a virus!)

  • Before you send the message with the attachment, ALWAYS send the recipient a message telling him/her you are about to send an attachment. Describe the attachment and why you are sending it. Remember, viruses can do this too, so try to include something unique in this message, so the recipient will know it is from you and not some automated virus.
  • Never send messages with attachments that contain executable code (codes that run things), like Word documents with macros. You can use Rich Text Format (RTF) instead of the standard .DOC file. There are, however, some viruses out there that will fool Word when you save as RTF, so while you cannot completely trust .RTF files, it is still good practice. This may avoid the embarrassment of you sending the recipient a virus if you are already infected. If you don't know what "executable code" is, ask your computer support person.
  • Run an anti-virus product and update it frequently. The anti-virus protection at work is updated daily, but do not rely on it to completely protect you. Anti-virus products can only detect what they know about. Specifically, scan any file you are going to include as an attachment in an email before you send it to someone.

 

Summary

Always err on the side of caution and use email safely.

This problem is not going away. You need to think of this like you think of locking your doors at night, or like you think about walking along a busy street. There are safe ways, and unsafe ways, so please be smart, ask questions, and think before you click.