Most of us know that opening unknown files is a dangerous behavior, but how do you spot malicious files?
Imagine a co-worker sends you a picture they want you to see and it's a .jpg file. You open it, then your computer starts acting weird all of a sudden. Your anti-virus program tells you that you have a virus. What could have happened?
The .jpg file you opened was really a .jpg.exe file that infected your computer. A hacker can disguise a file, so you don't see that it's malicious until it's too late.
By default, Windows does not show the extensions of a file when you are viewing a folder. This makes it easy for hackers to trick someone into thinking an executable file is actually a familiar Word, Excel or PDF document.
.EXE files are executable programs that contain code. DO NOT OPEN THEM unless you know exactly what it is and who it's from. And it's not just the .exe files you have to look out for. Other program files, scripts, shortcuts and Office macros can be dangerous too. These files are potentially harmful, because they have code that can do a lot of harm. Opening .exe files can be the launch of a virus that brings down your computer and the entire network.
To protect yourself, enable the viewing of your file extensions in Windows Explorer's Folder Settings window. You should also make sure your security software is running in the background and that it's up to date.
Another best practice is to never download files that are attached to your email. Whether or not you are expecting an attachment, always verify with the person via phone if they actually sent it. Even if their email address appears accurate, there's a chance a hacker may have spoofed their email.
Security awareness is extremely important when it comes to cyber threats. Technology can only do so much to a certain point, but the computer user can be extremely useful in detecting something suspicious and preventing a cyber attack. If you are aware of cyber threats and always careful when looking at file extensions, you can spot a malicious file before it infects your computer.