If you open a phishing email, will your computer get a virus?

emailLook how we work in real estate now – signing on-line documents, emails, Facebook …. Everything is pretty virtual; however, you’ve see the warnings out there about emails filled with spam, viruses and all sorts of things that can and definitely will bring your computer and your to your knees. You are filled with fear when these crafty little devils make their way into your mail box. Your handshakes and your mouse quivers because you have heard by the experts if you open that email, it will be unleashing the demons like Pandora’s box. Of all things, you do NOT want to make the wrong click and open up the email.

But wait! You can’t get infected by just opening up the email  – oh, you WILL get all sorts of ugly nasties if you open up an attachment or click on a link in the body of the email, but you won’t unleash the wrath of Khan by just opening up the email …. Or so I have been told.

So, why CAN’T you get infected by just opening the email because you USED to … back in the “olden” days.

According to one of my favorite site – HowToGeek.com –  “Emails are essentially text or HTML documents (web pages). Just like opening a text file or web page in your browser should be safe, opening an email message should also be safe. Whether you are using Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird, or another web-based or desktop email client, opening an email – even a suspicious looking one – should be safe.” They go on to say, “some emails may try to infect you after you open them. They may contain malicious programs as attachments or have links to malicious websites full of malware and scams. You should only run trustworthy attachments – even if someone you trust sends you file attachment with a .exe file or another program file, you probably should not open it. They may be compromised.”

Microsoft Outlook had a serious security problem which left the program users vulnerable to emails running JavaScript code and that allowed infected emails dangerous to open. This was fixed and now emails cannot run using JavaScript and most “modern” email clients don’t automatically display images in emails. As long as there is current/up to date software (including your mail client, browser, browser plugins, and operating system), you should be able to open all emails safely; even those from your long lost uncle in Nigeria.

But just the ability to open your emails safely does not save you from the dangers of infected files, links and attachments. Keep in mind:

  • Keep Your Mail Client, Web Browser, and Operating System Updated: Software updates are important, as the bad guys regularly find holes and try to exploit them. Software updates close these holes and protect you. If you are running an outdated browser and email client, you could be compromised. (If you have Java installed, you should uninstall it or at least disable the browser plugin to protect yourself, too.)
  • Use Antivirus Software: On Windows, antivirus software is an important layer of protection. It can help protect you from both mistakes and software bugs that allow malware to run without your permission.
  • Don’t Run Dangerous Attachments: If you get a PDF file from someone, it’s probably safe to open (especially if your PDF reader is up-to-date). However, if you suddenly get an email with a .exe file or another potentially dangerous type of file you aren’t expecting – even if it’s from someone you know – you probably shouldn’t run the attachment. Exercise extreme caution with email attachments – they are still a common source of infection.
  • Be Careful of Links: Clicking links should be safe, just as loading a website in your browser should be safe. However, if the link looks like it leads to a site packed with malware and acai berry scams, you probably shouldn’t click it. If you do click a link, don’t download and run any potentially dangerous files. You should also watch out for phishing – if you click a link in an email that appears to be from your bank and end up on a similar-looking website, it may not actually be your bank’s website, but a clever imposter.

I always get emails that really look like they are from Linked-in, Facebook, PayPal or an invoice with not much information. I always like to hover my mouse over the links/email address to see where it really is from. There are many pharmaceutical companies hiding behind these fake emails.

The REALTOR® Association cracked down on a fake site posting false complaints about real estate practitioners, and demanding money to have the complaints removed from the site. The REALTOR® Association made the company take down the site – it was shut down! But I’m sure it will pop up again in some slimy way trying to get money from someone.

As with anything, you need to make sure you have your protection in place like Antivirus Software and just be careful on the internet.

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