"I simply opened an email attachment and immediately all of my email accounts were comprised and began sending mass spam out into the world!"
Clients and friends of mine would imagine that of all people, I would know how to safe-guard myself from viruses, malware, spyware all the other cyber threats. What happened to me is actually very scary and is happening all over the world as we speak. In short, I received an email which I immediately identified as spam. It contained an innocent looking attachment with the well-known and trusted .docx file format (Microsoft Word)
Below is what the email looked like. Looks innocent right?
What I assumed would happen next was for the document open safely and most likely show its contents with at least one link/URL. Clicking on these links is usually where the damage is done, as it redirects you to a dubious website and infects your computer accordingly.
TIP: These links are usually diguised. The following link is an example: www.hiltonpreston.com - hover your mouse on this link to see where is actually going. The destination of this link is shown as a small popup, or in the status bar bottom left of your screen. This is a very good way to reveal where links are navigating to before clicking on them and applies to both websites and emails.
What happened in reality was that before the document even opened, it gained access to my email account information, including passwords and sent these credentials to a remote location. This happened to all four of my email accounts! Within seconds, "my email addresses" started spamming the world at an alarming rate. I knew I was compromised as soon as I started receiving a large volume of "Mail Delivery Unsuccesful" emails to email addresses I have never heard of. It is important at this time to immediately change all email passwords.
In this case I was not infected with any virus or spyware, but it goes without saying that you should still run all types of anti-virus / anti-spyware programmes to ensure you are clean. In terms of software to help protect you, there are some great free options out there which I will list below for you.
McAfee "Stinger" - This programme is not installed, but can be run at any time to scan your computer if you suspect you are infected.
Avast Antivirus - Requires installation and is consistently checking your computer.
FREE Anti Spyware/Malware:
I have had great success using these programmes.
Prevention is better than the cure!
The best advice I can give is to treat each email as suspicious. Ask yourself, do I know the sender? Am I expecting this email? Does it makes any sense at all? if not, delete it without hesitation! Most infections/comprises takes place when dealing with emails. It requires your action or approval before you become compromised or infected with virus. Think before you click on a link, open an attachment, or give permission for anything. Having the latest versions of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office will minimise the chance of your computer becoming compromised.
You can open the following attachments without any concerns: .PDF, .TXT, .JPG, .PNG, .BMP, .GIF
Remain very cautious with these attachments: .DOCX, .DOC, .XLXS, .XLS (trusted senders only)
Attachments that are most likely a virus: .EXE, .VBS, .BAT
TIP: .ZIP is a compressed file and is popular method for reducing the size of a file that is being sent, but is often used to disguise viruses, so use with care.
Share this with friends and family, as you could save them a massive headache in future. Stay safe!