Despite the growth and prominence of video messaging and chat apps, e-mail is still an essential part of daily life. As per statistics from Statista, there were four billion e-mail users in 2020 and that number is expected to grow to 4.6 billion users by 2025.

Now picture this: it’s 1992 and you want to send your relative who lives half way around the world a message. If they don’t have a phone, you would send them a letter in the mail, or snail mail as some like to call it. We’ve come a long way since those times and can now communicate via electronic mail, otherwise known as e-mail.

Some of the more popular uses of e-mails are: contacting friends, applying for jobs, requesting information, sending documents or photos, signing up for services, sending party invitations, scheduling appointments etc. It’s important to never take e-mail security for granted.

Here are some e-mail security risks and how to prevent them.

Dangerous Files

It’s common to see photos, documents and audio files attached to everyday e-mails. But not every attachment you receive is necessarily harmless. Opening malicious attachments can download malware onto your device. Malware can slow down your device, spam you with unwanted ads and lock up important files. In other words, malware is not good for your device.

The best way to prevent downloading a dangerous or malicious file is to be able to identify it. The main types of file attachments you should be on the lookout for are: .exe files, .vbs, .scr, .cmd and .js.  This means if you see a file attachment and it has these letters at the end of the attachment, you should avoid opening the attachment. This is especially recommended if the attachment has been sent from a new or unknown e-mail address.

You can also review the content of the e-mail. If a sender is requesting you to open a photo, which typically has an extension of: .jpg or .png but the attachment is in a .mp3 format, then chances are you have a misleading attachment.

Use a Strong E-Mail Password

If your e-mail password is “12345”, then you should probably change your password. Having a basic password as “12345” increases your chances of having your e-mail hacked.

Here are some tips for creating a strong e-mail password:

  • Use upper and lower case letters
  • Include numbers and special characters
  • Use phrases instead of common words
  • Avoid using birthdays, home addresses, home towns or anything personal

Check Sender’s Address

It’s always good practice to check the sender’s e-mail address. An attacker typically tries to replicate and use the e-mail address of a trusted source. For example, an attacker may slightly change the wording of a reputable business name within an e-mail address (e.g. “C8stco” instead of Costco).

Watch Out for Phishing E-mails

Phishing is one of the many ways hackers get access to your account information. Just like fishing, “bait” is used to try and lure you into providing sensitive information. Phishing e-mails generally try and get you to click a link and/or request that you “log in” to an account.

Some common phishing e-mails are ones that claim to be from services that you use such as banks, PayPal, phone providers or merchants.

To detect a phishing e-mail, watch out for the following:

  • A reputable organization sends you an e-mail from a public e-mail domain such as a “Gmail” or Hotmail” account. No legitimate organization will send e-mails from a public domain so pay attention to the sender’s e-mail address
  • The e-mail address is misspelt
  • The content of the e-mail has grammatical errors
  • The content of the e-mail appears to be “too good to be true”.
  • It includes suspicious attachments or links
  • There is a sense of urgency from the e-mail. Most organizations will call you or send you formal mail if something is urgent.

In this age of technology, it’s important to be cognizant of the security of your e-mails. As with any topic nowadays, there are plenty of resources online that can provide information on safeguarding your e-mails.