Dymin Blog

Can Opening Email Harm My Computer?

Posted by Mike Hurt on May 30, 2017 11:26:00 AM

 virus in computer code


Viruses and malware are can slow down your computer, plague you with unwanted popups, threaten the security of your personal information, and/or attempt to gain unauthorized access to your computer, so it’s vital that you take aggressive steps to protect yourself. You may already know that one of the best ways to outsmart these nasty problems is to stop clicking “yes” or opening clickbait, but what about emails?

Can just opening an email message expose you to malware or other security threats?

Opening Email Is Generally Harmless

In the past, just opening an email could allow it to run harmful code and infect your computer with a virus or other unwanted program. You’ll be happy to hear that just opening an email is unlikely to expose you to anything nefarious or open the door to any unwanted computer infiltrators. No matter what program you use (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook, or any other standard web-based or desktop email client), just opening an email should be safe.

Unfortunately, some emails may try to cause harm to or access your system once they are open. Again, you hold the key to preventing them from succeeding. This is because the attachments or links in the emails that lead to harmful websites or programs can’t open and work their evil magic unless you click on them! It’s a good rule of thumb to only open attachments that you are expecting and know are safe, from verified senders whom you know to be safe. Err on the side of even more caution if the attachment is a file that ends in “.exe” or another program file extension and do not open it unless you are absolutely sure it is safe. As with everything on the web, you shouldn’t run programs that try to automatically download onto your computer after you click a link. If you have any doubts about an attachment to or a link in an email, contact an IT professional before taking any action.


Use Filters, Anti-Virus Programs, and Good Sense

It’s important to keep your software up-to-date, including your mail client, browser, browser plugins, and operating system. Most importantly, make sure you install and run a quality antivirus program—and keep it up to date. An antivirus program scans your computer and removes malware that has made it onto your computer; it can also monitor your internet connection and block virus attacks and websites known for distributing viruses before they even make it on to your computer. So, if you do accidentally click a link inside an email, it provides another layer of protection against harm. A good managed IT service provider will set up filters to protect you using advanced web filtering systems to prevent your computer from reaching harmful websites. These filters keep an up-to-the-second "blacklist" on every known malicious website that might be host to viruses and other undesirables, so an unintentional click on a well-disguised phishing link won't lead to catastrophe. 

Your email program likely also has filters that help sort out “junk” email before it hits your inbox. You can help these filters work better by marking email messages as unwanted instead of opening them; click the checkbox next to the message and then select “mark as junk” or “report as spam” (or whatever similar option your email program has). This helps your email service keep similar messages and messages from the same sender out of your inbox completely.

Finally, use good common sense when you receive an email that seems unusual or “too good to be true,” and, in general, avoid clicking through links in emails. One common fraud scheme, called “phishing,” employs authentic-looking emails from real companies to entice recipients to click links or visit sites and turn over personal information. If you receive an email from a company you do business with—for example, Amazon.com—purporting to give you information about your account or order, it’s a better practice to navigate directly to the website by typing its address in the URL bar and review your information within the authentic site.


Unsure? Call the Dymin IT Professionals!

With good internet habits, appropriate antivirus software, and you should be able to open email messages and view them without fear. If you have any hesitancy, however, the Dymin techs can help. We offer a combination of products that we call the “Dymin Malware Protection Package,” which protects up to three home computers for one low price. For your business, our managed IT services can help you guard against all sorts of security risks, maintain your computers and networking systems, and prevent downtime and data loss. Contact us to find out more about our products and services or come see us in our Urbandale, Iowa store.

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Topics: computer security, computer maintenance, IT questions