Viruses are the oldest parasites known to man, often carriers of terrible and deadly diseases (as in the case of SARS-CoV-2, responsible for COVID-19). With the invention of the computer, some programmers felt the need to infect the PCs of others in order to prevent work, to steal personal data, or to take complete control of the machine, perfectly replicating the survival mechanism of biological viruses. The main purpose of a computer virus is in fact to replicate, spread and open access doors; any damage to the system is a consequence of this. One of the still very effective methods of spreading computer viruses is infected emails, which are opened carelessly and lead to devastating infections for any modern computer.In this guide we will show you how to recognize emails that contain computer viruses, so as to be able to take the necessary measures and avoid pressing on that suspicious email, even if received from a seemingly safe and reliable source, to prevent malware from spreading to others.
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How to recognize emails with viruses and avoid them
Preventing the virus from entering your computer via email is not only a matter of IT competence but above all, it is important to avoid risks and infections that can create big personal problems and damage individual files but also computer system files.
A virus disguised in e-commerce emails
Viruses are usually programs so they appear as executable files, but that’s not always the case; some viruses base their strength on the naivety of potential victims. Well-developed spam emails that warn of a are famous Amazon package in stock to be unlocked, an Amazon order suddenly canceled or a discount coupon to redeem.
In this case, the virus is the same email and it has the same effects as a normal virus: spreading, clogging of servers and e-mail boxes; often the links included in these emails contain dangerous viruses able to steal our personal information, to continue the infection using our contacts (worm) or to steal access to the account mentioned in the email (in this Amazon case). The email hoaxes are in effect viruses that cause, to those who do not know how to recognize them, a waste of time, resources, and energy. To find out more, we invite you to read our in-depth analysis of hoaxes and legends via Email.
A virus disguised in bank emails
A variant of this type of Email virus is those false messages that clog our mailboxes every day, those of banks, credit institutions, credit cards, and so on. These are apparently harmless messages that warn the user about the sudden blocking of the account, about the deposit of hundreds of thousands of euros in the account (but maybe!), About a transaction to be authorized or unauthorized access from a PC unknown.
On this type of email, many Americans and Italians have lost months of salary, stolen by computer thieves who have thus recovered access to current accounts and transferred the money to untraceable foreign accounts. Even if this type of threat is not a real virus, phishing works for the same purposes as a virus so you should be very careful.
To learn more we can read the guide Protect online bank accounts from email attacks and scams.
A virus is hidden in the email attachment
If the types of infections seen in the previous chapters weren’t necessarily viruses, we can always run into a, however, the virus, hidden in most cases within unsuspected mail attachments.
Opening any type of attachment or executable file (.Com, .Exe, .Vbs, .Zip, .Scr, .Dll, .Pif, .Js) or infected Office document (.Doc, .docx, .pst, .Dot, .xls, .xlt) we can start the infection, without being able to do anything but witness the blocking or corruption of personal files. The surest way to avoid them is to not open e-mail attachments lightly, especially if we don’t know the sender. If you don’t know the sender and if the text of the email is suspicious or in English, just delete the email or move it to Spam to rest assured.
Do not consider an attachment safe just because it comes from a trusted and known contact as there is a probability that he has been infected and the virus has replicated and is spreading by itself: we carefully read every e-mail before opening attachments even if they come from family members. Many webmail services such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail scan email attachments for viruses.
To avoid viruses from emails there are many tricks that we can apply: for example Word documents alternatively they can be opened with programs that do not support macros, such as LibreOffice (very safe from this point of view), the emails can be managed with a mail client such as Thunderbird while the executable attachments can be started in a safe and secure environment with a sandbox, as seen in the guide Create a sandbox to run dangerous programs.
A virus is hidden in the body of the message
Last but not least method of spreading viruses via email is by inserting them in the body of the message. Using the simple HTML code, the programming language of websites is enough only to open the email to load multimedia contents such as images, enough to start an infection on the computer without even clicking on links or attachments!
This is why many email programs and many online email services (Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail) block HTML by default and ask the user to press a button to view the content in the body of the email; this is a precaution that we must never deactivate.
In most cases, we will realize that we are in front of an email with malicious embedded HTML if, by opening the same email with the active HTML block, we see nothing: in this case, the whole image was a dangerous HTML code ready to infect our computer.
READ ALSO: Recognize fake, scam, non-genuine emails
To avoid getting any type of virus (including those spread via email) it is certainly advisable to install an antivirus program but, even more, common sense is needed, especially while surfing the internet, avoiding downloading strange software, or accepting installations of external components from untrusted sites. The reason all of this virus spreading strategies via email are successful and work is because they are well thought out.
It can be a nice invitation, a message from a woman, a threat to deactivate bank accounts, congratulations on winning a prize, a sensational promotion or a request for help, a message that warns that the PC is infected and must be repaired. Most people easily click on a link that is useful or curious.
To increase the level of protection against scam emails or email viruses, we recommend that you also read the guide Best Free Antivirus of 2021 for PC e Should You Pay For An Antivirus?