From the Kenosha News on 2-27-05

What you should know about attachments

     People often ask me whether they should open attachments they get by e-mail.  Yes, you can, but you have to be very careful.  There are some types of attachments that you should never open and others that are probably safe in most cases.

     First, learn to recognize the file extensions that can be dangerous, including:  .exe, .pif, .vbs.  These are all executables of some kind.  If you don't recognize a file extension, go to the web site www.filext.com.  You can type in any file extension, and it will tell you what it means and whether it has potential to be infected with viruses.  You may also recognize some "safer" extensions such as .jpg (a picture) or .doc (a Word document.)  These are safer because the sender probably created the file themselves.  However, new viruses can now infect picture files like .jpg, and Word macro viruses have been around for quite some time, so no file type is ever completely safe.  For more information on this topic, go to www.cknow.com/vtutor/vtextensions.htm and/or www.g4techtv.com/leolaporte/features/25469/Safe_File_Extensions.html.

     I know some people who never open any attachments at all, but that would make it difficult or impossible to share ordinary documents and pictures.  Instead, you can use other clues to indicate whether the message and the attachment are legitimate.  The second thing to watch for is the sender address.  Is the message from someone you know?  I never open attachments from strangers.  Also, be careful of attachments that appear to come from a company such as Microsoft, Ebay, PayPal, or a bank.  I have never seen a case where one of these sent anything to customers as an attachment.

     Third, look at the content of the message itself.  Senders should always include enough specific information to prove that the message was not automatically generated by a virus.  For example, if the message only says, "Hello, take a look at these pictures from my party," then that is not enough info to prove that the sender knows you and sent the pictures to you specifically.  In cases like this, send a separate message to the sender and ask them if they REALLY sent you something.  When you send an attachment, be sure to write your message wisely so that the recipient will know that it's really you sending something specifically for them.

     Finally, if you are convinced the attachment is clean, save it to your computer first and scan it.  To do this, click on it as if to open it, then click on the Save button in the File Download dialog box.  Be very careful to note the location where you save it, whether it be the desktop, My Documents, or another folder.  Next, launch your anti-virus program and run a scan on that one file.  If the file does turn out to be infected, delete it, and contact the person who sent it to you to let them know they have a virus.

     You can now access past articles from this column on-line at http://www.sabbarpublications.com.  Click on the button at the left labeled "News Archive."

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 2-27-05