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The Security Risk of Attachments

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We are regularly contacted by clients who are concerned about potentially harmful emails and the accompanying attachments.

What is clear is that there is some confusion with regard to these attachments, particularly when it comes to standard Microsoft Office files such as Word and Excel.

It is generally well known that .zip and .exe files are potentially very dangerous and often viruses are spread in this manner. Viruses are effectively small software programs which are typically buried within a file and downloaded without you being aware.

Once the attachment is opened, the virus is activated and the damage is done. This could be to damage your system, infecting files which you then pass on to others, theft of personal details or sending itself to those email addresses in your email address book.

Emails are frequently blocked by antivirus software due to these types of attachments but what is not so well known if that other “standard” Office files – such as .doc / .docx, .xls / .xlsx and .pdf – are also frequently used to distribute viruses.

Microsoft Word files are particularly vulnerable due to the fact that they are commonly exchanged and there is a lack of awareness concerning the risks. Using macros (shortcuts that can automate tasks in applications such as Word and Excel), cyber criminals can write viruses which is then sent as part of a standard Office application. Once the attachment is opened, the virus then automatically activates.

As well as crude attempts to send viruses through mass mailings, more sophisticated methods are used such as spoofing the email address of an existing contact, purporting to be the sender of an important message (such as one from your bank, the HMRC, etc), or taking advantage of trending topics or news.

So when it comes to keeping yourself protected from potential spam and cybercrime, the advice is to treat attachments – whether from known or unknown senders – with extreme caution and only to open if they are expected. Of course, appropriate Internet Security software should also be in place but it is more important than ever to delete any suspect messages without opening them and to not click on any web links or downloaded files sent by someone unknown to you.

If in any doubt about the legitimacy of any emails or attachments, contact our helpdesk today on 01732 762675.