You’ve Got Mail: The Do’s and Don’ts of Checking Your Email

In many ways, the Internet is still a wild and lawless place in comparison to the physical world, few laws regulating what people can and can’t do online. Cyber criminals have free reign to create and distribute harmful software, software that costs people their safety and security on a daily basis. It has reached to the point where we can’t even trust our own eyes; emails claiming to be from loved ones, even seeming to come from their email address, can turn out to be part of a phishing scam.

So what can you do to protect yourself against this onslaught? The first step is getting educated, so we’ve put together some Do’s and Don’ts to help you gain a better understanding of the dangers, and how to avoid them.

DO open your emails.

We are long past the stage in which simply opening an email can harm your computer. The reason it used to be dangerous was because emails used to be able to run JavaScript. Opening a malicious email coded with JavaScript would trigger the malware to release onto your computer. In recent years, however, email providers have disabled JavaScript altogether. That means you can no longer get a virus just by opening an email. Now, thanks to these security measures, email viruses require a bit more active participation from you.

DON’T open unexpected attachments.

One form of active participation is opening email attachments. Unknown attachments can contain malicious programs that will infect your computer. Some types of email malware act as worms, replicating and using your email address to send themselves out to your contacts. So even if it’s from a friend or family member, there’s always the possibility that their account was compromised. If you get an unexpected attachment from one of your contacts, give them a call before you open it to be sure it’s legitimate.

DON’T click on unknown links.

Just like attachments, links can take you to websites that expose you to malware or scams. It’s easy to disguise a link as one thing and have it take you somewhere completely different. A great example would be a link that says, but clicking on it actually takes you to Oprah Winfrey’s website. Once you’re on a malicious site, all bets are off—just like with the JavaScript-based emails of old, simply opening the web page can trigger the code into infecting your computer with malware.

DO keep your software updated.

This includes your mail client (Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird, Outlook, etc.), your web browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, Firefox) and your operating system (Mac, Windows, Linux, etc.). The people trying to infect your computer look for holes in the software’s security to exploit it, but keeping your software updated will close all of these holes and as a result, help keep you safe. Updating your software is like getting a vaccine for your computer, and can help protect you from further harm.

DO use antivirus software.

Even the most tech-savvy people can get malware on their computer. Because of this, having an antivirus program installed is essential. It’s also important to keep that antivirus updated, so it can keep up with new virus definitions in order to effectively protect you from attacks. Still, there’s a lot of malware out there masquerading as antivirus programs, so be sure you’ve picked a good one. This article,2817,2372364,00.asp reviews a lot of different legitimate antivirus programs, so check it out if you need help choosing.

Once you’ve fully grasped the threat of bad email attachments and links, avoiding them can become like second nature. Soon, you’ll be able to recognize malicious emails right away, sending them to your spam folder without a second thought. Just remember: when in doubt, throw it out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your email.

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About the author

Photo of Erik Fullmer

Erik Fullmer

Erik was raised in many places but has long since called Utah home. Rooted in mountains, he spends a lot of time with his dogs in the mountains and in the winter he skis… a lot.

Erik is actively earning the necessary certifications and training to become a certified AMGA Ski Guide.

With over a decade of content writing experience, Erik finds passion when writing for the tech and outdoor recreation industries.