Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) warn of the dangers presented by emails and certain attachments as part of its ongoing Cyber Security Awareness Month campaign.
Reading the contents of an email should be safe if you have the latest security patches, but email attachments can be harmful. Email phishing scams can trick you into opening attachments or giving up personal information. They appear to be emails from people, organizations or companies you know or trust, but they’re often the gateway to identity theft by automatically installing malware, viruses, worms, and trojans. In some instances, email attachments are disguised as letters of reference, resumes or information requests, and can infiltrate and affect businesses that are involved in legitimate hiring processes. Also known as “spearphishing campaigns”, high-value corporatations and governments have been targeted through email attachments to take advantage of previously unknown security vulnerabilities.
Many email servers will perform virus scanning and remove potentially dangerous attachments, but you can’t rely on this. The easiest way to identify whether a file is dangerous is by its file extension, which tells you the type of file it is. For example, a file with the “.exe” file extension is a Windows program and should not be opened. Many email services will block such attachments. Other file extensions that can run potentially harmful code include “.msi”, “.bat”, “.com”, “.cmd”, “.hta”, “.scr”, “.pif”, “.reg”, “.js”, “.vbs”, “.wsf”, “.cpl”, “.jar” and more.
In general, you should only open files with commonly-used attachments that you know are safe. For example, “.jpg” and “.png” are image files and should be safe. Document file extensions such as “.pdf”, “.docx”, “.xlsx”, and “.pptx” and should also be safe — although it’s important to have the latest security patches so malicious types of these files can’t infect systems via security holes in Adobe Reader or Microsoft Office.
If you or a business suspects they’ve been a victim of ‘spearfishing’, contact your local police service, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, report it to the OPP online at http://www.opp.ca/index.php?id=132 or through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) at https://www.tipsubmit.com/start.htm
For helpful tips and links during Cyber Security Awareness Month, follow the OPP on Twitter (@OPP_News), Facebook and Instagram and use the hashtags #CyberSecurity, #CyberAware and #OPPTips.
“Insecure, infected or unencrypted email attachments can risk injecting a number of information and data security threats to your home or workplace environments. Your personal information and business systems need to be safeguarded and it starts right at your inbox.”
–Deputy Commissioner Rick BARNUM, OPP Investigations and Organized Crime
“When it comes to email attachments, you should exercise extreme caution and assume the worst. Don’t actually download or run an attachment unless you have a good reason to do so. If you’re not expecting an attachment, treat it with healthy suspicion.”
– Supt. Paul BEESLEY, Director – OPP Behavioural, Forensic and Electronic Services