How to Spot Unsafe Email Attachments: 6 Red Flags

MakeUseOf | 8/15/2019 | Dan Price
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Email remains a prominent attack vector for hackers, cybercriminals, snoopers, and other online miscreants. As such, it’s vital that you know how to spot an unsafe email attachment.

If you’re not sure where to start, keep reading. We’re going to explain several red flags that’ll help you identify potentially dangerous files in your inbox.

File - Extensions - Code - Computer - Malware

Unfortunately, there are several file extensions which could potentially run code on your computer and thus install malware.

As you’d expect, hackers don’t make them easy to spot. Often, dangerous file extensions are concealed in ZIP files and RAR archives. If you see either of those extensions in an attachment that doesn’t come from a recognized contact, you should treat it with suspicion.

File - Extension - EXE - Windows - Files

The most dangerous file extension is EXE. They are Windows executable files which are particularly hazardous due to their ability to disable your antivirus app.

Other frequently used extensions to watch out for include:

Advantage - Java - Runtime - Insecurities

JAR: They can take advantage of Java runtime insecurities.

BAT: Contains a list of commands that run in MS-DOS.

PSC1 - PowerShell - Script - Commands

PSC1: A PowerShell script with commands.

VB and VBS: A Visual Basic script with embedded code.

MSI - Type - Windows - Installer

MSI: Another type of Windows installer.

CMD: Similar to BAT files.

REG - Registry - Files

REG: Windows registry files.

WSF: A Windows Script File that permits mixed scripting languages.

Eye - Microsoft - Office - Macros - DOCM

You also need to keep an eye on Microsoft Office files with macros (such as DOCM, XLSM, and PPTM). Macros can be harmful but are also commonplace—especially in business documents. You’ll have to exercise your own judgment.

As we just alluded to, archive files (such as ZIP, RAR, and 7Z) can conceal malware.

Problem - Files—ie - Password - Order - Contents

The problem is especially acute for encrypted archive files—i.e., those that require a password in order to extract their contents. Because they are encrypted, your email provider’s native antivirus scanner cannot see what they contain, and thus can’t flag it as malware.

The counterargument is that encrypted archive files are an excellent way...
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