Long before my blogging days, I have always read from the forums I frequented, read from websites and in signs in most internet shops that I should be very careful of any email I receive that has an attachment.
They were right, because back then and even up to now, viruses, worms, trojans and other badware are spread through email via attachments. However I was a bit puzzled. If that were really true, then how come my computer has never been infected by such badware when in fact I had the habit of checking out what those email attachments were. Plus, the rise of email groups which we used in classes to share notes, lectures and readings also needed to have a look at attachments to emails I’ve received.
I’m not kidding, the only way my computer was ever invaded by viruses, et. al were through infected diskettes and later on flash drives from my classmates and friends or from the internet shops I visited. Thankfully, despite the many invasions, my anti-virus programs have successfully fended off any badware that has ever managed to touch my computer.
Still, I was puzzled as to how come there are still reports, stories and warnings about the spread of new destructive viruses via email all over the world? My friends, classmates and teachers were being infected too and even consulted me on what to do once their PCs have been ravaged by badware.
I helped them clean-up their PCs, encouraged them to use the same anti-virus tools and other security apps I use and even repaired the PCs of some of them. Still, they get infections from email attachments.
This prompted me to think deeper into the matter.
Since we were practically using the same set of security apps (AV, firewall and other tools) what else could be considered as a “point-of-vulnerability” or entry on their PCs.
The answer dawned upon me when one of my friends while using my desktop computer asked why Outlook was in such a ‘pristine’ state, he accidentally launched it and the auto-configuration wizard greeted him. I answered, “What is Outlook for anyways?”
Yes, though I’m geek and a blogger, back then I have no idea what Outlook was for. Going back, the conversation went on like this (I’ve already translated it into English and restored it from my half-life memory)
James: You don’t know what Outlook is for? It’s an e-mail client.
Me: What’s an email client?
James: WTF? You’re a geek and you don’t know what an email client is?
Me: Dude, I’m a geek but I did not invent the internet, email or an email client.
James: It’s a program that handles your email for you. With it you don’t have to be online all the time to read and reply to email.
Me: Sounds cool. But why use an email client when I could access my email using a web browser?
James: But you need to be online to do so.
Me: But isn’t that how email works? You need the internet to do email.
James: Not with an email client. Like Outlook, it downloads all you email on your computer so that you can read it even when you’re not connected to the internet. When you make replies to email, it saves it so that when you do get back online it then those replies are sent.
Me: I see. That is neat. But wait, when you say it downloads all your email on your computer does that mean the attachments are included?
James: Of course, what good is an email client if attachments wouldn’t be downloaded as well.
Me: Aha! That’s it!
And that is the “point-of-entry” I’ve been looking for. That’s the explanation why warnings about opening email attachments still prevail to this day. That’s the reason my PCs have never been infected from an email attachment. All this time I’ve been accessing my email directly on the internet where my email providers (Hotmail and then Gmail) were scanning the attachments for me. My ignorance of email clients have been saving me from viruses, worms, trojans and other badware that is the scourge of using computers since time immemorial.
I’ve recently installed Mozilla Thunderbird on my notebook, just to try it out. After a few days, I was back to using Gmail on the web browser. It’s so much better and safer.