Information Services

Viruses in email

Advice and information for University of Edinburgh email users concerning viruses.

Some viruses in emails can at worst be annoying. Others can destroy your work or make your system unuseable. Still, others can cause security breaches by disclosure of passwords or other sensitive University or personal information.

There are certain kinds of mail message that you should look out for. It is common for viruses to be passed between machines in attachments to email messages, either as executable binaries or embedded in documents that have macro facilities, such as Word documents.

Opening a document or executable attachment therefore implies trusting the sender and the contents. You should only open an exacutable attachment or document received through the mail if you know the sender of the message and either the message has been sent by prior arrangement or with a covering note that clearly came from the sender or the message has been sent within a context of existing practice, for example where your work group commonly pass certain types of document around.

Another thing to watch out for is the bogus virus warning, which is quite common. These tend to take the form of a message warning "if you receive a message entitled such-and-such don't open it or it will reformat your hard disk". These are usually hoaxes; you must actually read a document or run an executable to infect your machine. If you receive such warnings don't pass them on to lots of people you know, as they exhort you to do. Instead, if you are worried, get in touch with your usual support. If the warnings turn out to have foundation, they will know what to do.