Can opening an email pose a threat to your online safety? Is it possible to get a virus or malware by simply opening an email? These are issues that need to be addressed, and in this article, you will find answers to them and more.
Spam Email and Security Concerns
Statistics have revealed that about half the total emails sent in a day are spam messages. I am talking about billions of emails here, which is quite a cause for alarm. Suppose you have ever used Google Mail service as I do. In that case, you must have received dodgy messages from unfamiliar sources, which the email service usually directs to the Spam folder, notifying you about the possible threats it can cause. We get such kinds of messages daily. Hence, they need to be aware of the implications of accessing such messages.
With the staggering statistics concerning spam emails and their seeming potential to wreak havoc, security is an urgent necessity. Therefore, some of the basic practices you must have seen or heard from someone include not opening any link or downloading any content in an email flagged as spam or one that looks suspicious enough. This is because they can infect your device with malware or other malicious entity. However, what happens when you simply open an email? Can you get hacked or infected with a virus by simply opening an email? You will find answers to these questions as you read further.
Can You Get Hacked from Opening an Email?
It is possible to get hacked or Get a Virus by opening an email, although it is not particularly common. There are a few ways that this can happen:
- Malicious attachments: If the email contains a malicious attachment (such as a virus or malware), opening the attachment could potentially allow the attacker to gain access to your device or steal sensitive information.
- Links: If the email contains a link that takes you to a malicious website, visiting that website could potentially allow the attacker to gain access to your device or steal sensitive information.
- Phishing: If the email is a phishing attempt, it may contain links or attachments that are designed to trick you into giving away sensitive information (such as login credentials or financial information).
Opening spam or suspicious email won’t get you hacked or infect you with a virus. However, the story was different some years back. Although emails have been around for more than half a century, it wasn’t until 1993, when Tun Berners-Lee invented HTML, that the content emails were able to include links and images and not just plain text.
Thus, the email began to hold a lot of possibilities and potentials, some of which we have seen today regarding marketing, finance, and publishing. This also opened the doors to spam messages and viruses as hackers and others with malicious intent began to exploit these possibilities.
And once you receive a spam email or any containing malware, simply previewing it or opening it automatically sends malware or viruses on a rampage in your computer. But it didn’t take long for email service providers to find a way to eliminate these threats.
Now, opening an email does not pose any threat. However, this does not guarantee the safety of your personal information. Attachments and links from suspicious emails are still a constant threat. Thus, to give yourself the needed email security, the following tips will help you.
Suspicious Emails: How to figure them out
Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell that an email is not genuine or have such tendencies, especially if they sound persuasive and use a familiar email address (which may belong to someone they have hacked and are now using to defraud others). However, here are a few pointers to prevent you from falling prey to their antics:
Urgency is a major characteristic of fake emails. The sender may need you to perform an action, telling you how important it is to do it without delay and the possible consequences of not doing so.
2. Grammatical errors
Genuine emails are carefully worded and edited and contain little or no grammatical errors. But when you begin to see grammatical errors and misplaced punctuations here and there, it is a sign that the email is fake.
3. Dramatic Salutations and unusual tones
If you notice the email address to be from a co-worker or a friend, you would automatically expect a friendly tone, including the form of address. But once you begin to see a formal construct and greetings that seem too official to be sent by a co-worker or friend, you should begin to suspect.
If the email is linked to a particular brand, you should expect a correlation in almost every aspect of the brand. These include domain name, image, design, web links, and email address. When you observe too many discrepancies, the email may not be from a genuine source.
5. Urgently requests delicate information
Once you get an email from an unfamiliar sender requesting urgent, delicate information such as login details, codes, bank numbers, and others, it is suspicious, and make sure you do not respond to such requests until you have verified such demands.
How to protect your email account from suspicious emails and getting hacked
Aside from things to notice, here are some ways to prevent your email from possible attacks from malware and hackers:
1. Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
Virtual Private Networks are also part of security programs. However, they are quite distinct from others due to the general protection they offer. With an adequate VPN, all your online activities are hidden away from everyone, including your internet service provider.
They give a tremendous layer of security and privacy, meaning potential hackers can’t even obtain your details, to begin with. Therefore, ensure you use high-quality paid VPNs with the kill switch feature and other important tools, as they provide you with better security than their free counterparts.
2. Alter your email password occasionally
You can change your email password on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Altering your email password from time to time will make it hard for anyone to access it or hold significant control for a prolonged time. Therefore, hackers who may have gained access to your account may wake up one morning and find out they have been logged out and their password is no longer useful.
3. Employ two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication has been my best method of keeping my social media accounts safe and away from the reach of cybercriminals, not just email account alone. This is because the verification technique depends on personal or specific details only accessible to you. A good example is an SMS OTP that is usually sent to you through a phone number or text message when necessary, and they have a short term before expiration. This makes it difficult for others to get hold of or use them accordingly.
4. Use security programs
There are many security applications that can add an extra veil of protection to your email against the incursions of hackers and malware. Antiviruses, email filters, anti-phishing toolbars, firewalls, and more are examples of security programs. Such applications will minimize the risks of getting suspicious emails. Therefore, you will expect to get mostly legit emails. Also, ensure any program you are using is from a trustworthy source and of good quality. Research well before using any security application to ensure it can give you the needed protection.
How to tackle a compromised email account
There are so many ways of tackling a compromised email account. And the moment you observe that your email has been hacked or that of someone you know, taking urgent steps to stop the hacker from gaining more ground is important. This is even more pronounced if a business is tied to it, and there are many employee email accounts that can fall into the hacker’s schemes. Here are some actions you can take:
1. Log out of the email completely
Completely log out of the email and end any active internet activity connected to the email. This ensures that the hacker may not have the potential to open the account or retrieve any information from there.
2. Alter the email identity details
Altering the email security questions and password will also add another layer of difficulty for the hacker to navigate through.
3. Activate two-factor authentication
Activating two-factor authentication will better the strength of your account. At this point, the hacker won’t be able to wreak any further havoc through that email anymore.
4. Scan recently received and outgoing emails for unusual signs
Go through emails that have been sent and received recently. If you notice anything suspicious, try to remedy them. If emails weren’t t originally sent by the owner, it means they were sent through the account to others disguised as you. Try to draw the attention of those who have received such emails, informing them to disregard any email they have received and not act on them in any capacity. Doing this urgently will save others from initiating or continuing any further transactions with the hacker and also be on their guard.
What you should do after opening a suspicious email
As earlier said, simply opening an email is no longer consequential. The line of action you take after that determines if you get into trouble or not. Therefore, here are things you should do after opening a spam email:
1. Do not send any sensitive details
It is a habit for hackers to ask you to send personal details such as codes, bank numbers, and more. When you see such requests, do not act on them as they may use them to wreak more havoc without you suspecting, and before you know it, the damage must have been done. Thus, never send sensitive details to strange emails.
2. Do not reply to the email
You must ensure that you do not reply to the email as that can open a window of opportunity for the hacker to secure what they want or make more attempts to convince you of their integrity.
3. Don’t act on any urgent demand
Hackers will send you emails containing urgent demands and telling you there are consequences if you don’t act on them immediately. Such demands could include resetting passwords, sending codes to verify bank accounts, and asking you to send personal details to claim a reward, prize, or grant you never applied for or requested. This is why you should not open spam emails in the first place, as some hackers try their best to be persuasive and prey on human weaknesses, making you act without thinking.
4. Report the spam email
Ensure you report the email to your email service. This will help them take the necessary steps to locate the criminal, study the email to help them provide better services, and strengthen their security system. Most email services have a spam reporting feature to enable users to report potential threats.
Ensure you don’t click on any web link or download images or other files attached to the suspicious email because they can introduce viruses into your device and make it easy for the hacker to obtain certain personal details.
6. Delete the email
There is no need to leave the email languishing in your account. As long as it is there, it is still a potential threat. Therefore, ensure you immediately delete such an email and empty it from your trash folder.
If you find out that you have mistakenly downloaded an image or any other file or clicked on a link from a suspicious email, take the following steps to prevent and protect your device and information:
1. Install an antivirus program
Install an antivirus program and scan your device to remove any virus that may have entered your device before it causes any havoc. Ensure you keep updating the program and running a scan regularly.
2. Alter your password
Change your email password and security questions and initiate two-step authentication to improve your email security. You can keep altering your password occasionally to be on the safe side.
3. Report the email before deleting it
Report the email to your email service so that they can take necessary security measures. Ensure you do this before deleting the email.
4. Stay on alert
Be on the lookout for any suspicious occurrence so that you can act rapidly if need be.
Phishing websites are designed to seem like legitimate ones by stealing the design, layout, and content. Some of the content may be taken directly from the primary website, such as the “contact us” or “careers” sections. Sometimes, the original website’s name is even used.
Q: How can I strengthen the security of my email?
You can strengthen the security of your email by altering your password occasionally (monthly or bimonthly), activating two-step verification, and using security programs such as an antivirus or Virtual Private Network. With these methods, your email would be less susceptible to any form of cyber threats.
Q: How can I recognize a spam email?
Some ways to verify an email as spam include if the email contains an unusual urgent demand for sensitive information, many grammatical errors, unusual salutations, and inconsistent credentials. Once these things are present, the email is definitely suspicious and could pose a great threat. Ensure you do not interact, download any content, click on any link or supply any demanded information.
Gone are the days when opening an email could pose a great threat to users. Now, email services have found their way around such threats to provide more security to their users.
Opening an email can no longer introduce malware or get you hacked. Emails containing attachments and web links are some of the ways that hackers now use to get to their victims. Thus, it is important not to download content or follow any link embedded in a suspicious email.
Ensure you take important steps to strengthen your email against security threats by altering your email occasionally, activating two-step verification, using security programs, using Virtual private networks, and more. I hope the information given in this article will help keep your email safe and keep cybercriminals at bay.