Email Viruses – How They Work and How to Avoid Them

By Brandon Walp

tech talkWhat exactly is an email virus? An email virus is defined as a virus that is sent with or attached to email communications. Email communications are a way of transmitting messages to someone else electronically, such as through Gmail. An email virus can be designed to cause problems with the computer being attacked and/or allow the attacker to steal personal data from the targeted computer. This form of virus may not be detected by the everyday ordinary eye that is not looking for it. I will discuss examples of email viruses, how they work, how to look for them and how to prevent them.

The Melissa virus was an email virus that was considered to be one of the greatest hacks of all time. It was a macro virus that was distributed as an email that when opened by the target, disabled safeguards in the program called Microsoft Word. On top of that, if the target had the email program called Microsoft Outlook, it would resend the virus to the first 50 contacts in the target’s address book.

The virus came attached to an email with the subject line “Important Message from [the name of someone]” and body text that read “Here is that document you asked for…don’t show anyone else ;-).” If the target clicked on and opened the attachment, the infecting file was read to computer storage.
The ILOVEYOU virus was a worm or script that was disguised as a text document attached to an email. This virus goes all the way back to the year 2000. How it worked was it was an email with the subject line “ILOVEYOU” and an attachment called “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.VBS,” and if the attachment was opened it executed a Visual Basic script that infected the computer. What it did was once the script ran, it emailed itself to the victim’s email contact list and even edited the Windows registry and caused data to be replaced, such as images and Word documents, with copies of itself.

Now that I have explained a couple of email viruses and how they worked, we now need to know how to detect and avoid them. Follow these six steps on how to properly look for a virus within your email.

Step 1: Look closely at the subject line. Don’t click on anything you don’t recognize. If the subject line says something like “CLICK HERE TO CLAIM MONEY,” then it is most likely a virus.

Step 2: Don’t click on any attached files you don’t recognize. A good rule of thumb is if the attached file ends with an extension like .exe or .vbs, DO NOT click it, it is a virus.

Step 3: Be aware of the person sending the email. If you don’t recognize the name or company, do not click it.

Step 4: If you recognize the sender, double-check it by reading it and seeing if there is anything that doesn’t look right.

Step 5: Read the email carefully. Some hackers have the capability of making the email seem like it is sent from a trusted source, but look for spelling and punctuation errors as a sign it might be a virus.

Step 6: Never click or follow a link that you do not recognize. Hackers also use a tactic that involves the virus on a website and will send an email with the link to the infected website. Now, if you’re still not sure you are safe, web antivirus software is out there to do the detecting and preventing for you. Some software may cost a monthly or yearly fee, but there are ones out there for free, too. It’s your cost and your responsibility to choose.


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